The “Grizzly Man” Documentary by Werner Herzog

Subject: Entertainment & Media
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The documentary Grizzly Man shows Timothy Treadwell – a man who went to Alaska to live side by side with grizzly bears, protecting them and filming a huge amount of material on camera. The documentary was released in 2005 by director Werner Herzog. The picture is true video footage of Timothy Treadwell, who spent his entire life living, protecting, and studying grizzly bears in Alaska. The naturalist spent 13 years in Katmai National Park, communicating with dangerous predators. Two years before the film was made, in 2003, Treadwell and his girlfriend Amy Hoogenard were killed and partially eaten by grizzly bears. The story Herzog is about to tell is a penetrating realistic look at a good-natured but emotionally unstable dreamer whose naive belief in the beauty and harmony of nature led to his death.

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Although everyone will perceive in their way the departure of Treadwell from civilization, the director creates a picture, thanks to which many viewers will also consider the protagonist crazy. What is important is not what the director says behind the scenes and not even what relatives, friends, acquaintances of the deceased young man say. It is essential that the director edit and publish the shots Treadwell himself made. In this film, you can first see an antisocial young man with a highly unbalanced psyche, which was later explained in the course of the film, thanks to the convincing presentation of the director. Werner Herzog uses various techniques in his film so that the viewer can better feel the film’s atmosphere, despite the fact that it is a documentary. For example, there is a scene that begins with Jewel Palovak, a friend of Treadwell’s, she has a Treadwell’s camera with her. “During the fatal attack, there was no time to remove the lens cap,” Jewel Palovak, who let Herzog listen to the audio (Grizzly Man). As it became known later, this recording was made at the time of the protagonist’s death. After listening to the camera, Herzog says to Palovak, “Jewel, you should never listen to this” (Grizzly Man). After she promises not to listen to the sound or look at the coroner’s office pictures, the film cuts back to the previous frame. In fact, these frames are very typical for documentaries. However, the director uses emotional tension here, which is also a warning of the subsequent cruelty of the narrative.

When watching the movie, Treadwell just wanted to get away from the world of people, as if he decided to stop being a man and turn into a bear. Herzog also discusses this topic: while working on the picture to find answers to the suicidal behavior of the protagonist, the director watched about a hundred hours of video with his hero, naturalist Timothy Treadwell. Everything the producer sees and hears leads him to the conclusion that in recent years, Treadwell was driven by an unconscious desire for death – akin to the feelings experienced by many of Herzog’s heroes, like the group of dwarfs from Even Dwarfs Started Small. Herzog sets his documentary in such a way that anyone can feel the doom of the protagonist from being in a society that he does not like. The viewer is shown footage of how Treadwell grew up in a strange house with strange people, which suggests that Treadwell was crazy long before he decided to team up with the bears. The main thought and meaning of Treadwell’s life is unity with nature. Instead of adapting to nature, we adapt all our lives, every day, every hour, to what we have created. The endless purist of the American dream are common dreams instilled into modern day society. All of them can only come to terms with such a fate. At the same time, the society he rebuked and competed with did not accept him. Treadwell had a period in his life of an unsuccessful attempt to find his niche in society; he wanted to be significantly famous. He had the data for this, but it did not work out, which happens, and, unfortunately, often.

The film can teach the audience something; even imperfect people can teach us important lessons. Timothy Treadwell was trying to teach us a lesson about turning back to nature. One way or another, the main character remained true to himself and his love of great friends. The inability to socialize the way he wants led the young man to complete marginalization in the company of drugs and alcohol. These dependencies loosen the psyche, and, even having found the strength to give them up, a person cannot completely get rid of them. Treadwell’s behavior was part of an ambitious goal to throw off the shackles of civilization and live as simply and freely as animals. Indeed, we can say that loyalty to yourself and love for your work can make you happy. At the same time, one should remember the rational limits, the failure to comply with which can lead to a tragic end.

The films of Werner Herzog, especially his non-fiction, are characterized by a search for ecstatic truth, associated with the concept of ecstasy but not referential transparency. He claims to be constructing a new grammar, a new language, to meet the needs of a repressed and worn-out civilization (Anguiano 9). If we talk about sympathy for the main character, one should consider the various aspects of the situation in which he finds himself. On the one hand, this is a film about the true feelings of a man who puts all his strength into his work and wants others to fulfill his mission in a better world for nature and man. And the viewer could learn a lot from Treadwell, such as a passion for the cause of his life achieving a goal. It can endear the viewer to the naturalist, which in the end is sure to cause regret. After all, we can confidently say that the hero wanted to achieve his dream; he wanted to be happy no matter what.

On the other hand, it seems to me that the naturalist lost everything rational in an attempt to prove something to society and moved straight into the hands of danger, death. His fanaticism led to irreparable consequences, because of which the viewer cannot sincerely feel sympathy for the hero. The motives of his actions are not clear because no one knows where such a love for animals came from and whether Treadwell considered the ferocious grizzly bears to be safe. Perhaps, subconsciously, he took a big risk and put up with it while consciously crossing all permitted boundaries. I am of the opinion that we cannot put pressure on people without knowing all their thoughts and beliefs.

I have never met criticism of my interests, and I have always been supported in everything I do. Even though the main character does not make me feel complete empathy; I like his desire to follow his convictions. I try to participate in many volunteer activities that specialize in helping the older generation. I think this is especially important in the age of digitalization and the rapid development of the Internet.

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Together with other volunteers, we bring medicines, groceries, and essentials, walk dogs and deliver pet food. Supporting the elderly with a simple TV tune-up or connecting with loved ones not only makes their life easier and better but also affects mine. Usually, I do not belong to any particular organization, but I contact the city administration to find information. In addition, there are now many organizations that can help remotely. For example, SeniorNet helps older people learn the Internet, and Pets for Elderly helps animals and the elderly fight loneliness. Most of society accepts old age as an incurable disease and does not want to interfere in other people’s lives, believing that their own lives have enough trouble. That is why I feel so obligated to become competent enough to help myself or others better understand that together we can improve many people’s lives. However, I do not believe that all my relatives and friends should adhere to my opinion.

I am sure that the passionate pursuit of one’s goals, which is not brought to fanaticism, can positively affect the quality of a person’s life. As is known from the picture, Treadwell stood up against the environment, trying to prove his worth and rightness to him. Perhaps this was his biggest mistake, that is, alienation from society. Even though I would like everyone to find their purpose, I believe we should not forget about the support of the people around us. I also hope to be inspired to walk through life like Timothy Treadwell and learn from his story in a positive way to improve the world I live in.

Works Cited

Anguiano, Fabiola Alcalá. “Sublime-Irony on Werner Herzog’s Documentary Films. An Analysis on The White Diamond and Grizzly Man.” EL OJO QUE PIENSA, 2017, pp. 8–22, Web.

Grizzly Man. Directed by Werner Herzog, Discovery Docs, 2005.