Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Grizzly Man: A Review

Grizzly Man
Originally uploaded by Peacebang.

I saw Warner Herzog's celebrated documentary "Grizzly Man" on Monday night. It's the story of self-styled grizzly bear kindred spirit and protector Timothy Treadwell, who lived for thirteen summers with Alaskan grizzly bears until he (and girlfriend Amie Huguenard) were mauled to death by one.

Treadwell is a lovable, pathetic character -- he's a car accident you can't stop rubbernecking. It seems to me that he suffered from bi-polar disorder and the high of his annual adventures with the bears was a way of self-medicating. In the end, I had to sadly conclude that he committed suicide by way of Bear. Since he had such a romanticized view of himself and his sojourn among the bears, and such an obvious death wish, I could only regard his death with a kind of wistfulness, and hope that as soon as the bear got him, he went unconscious very fast.
The real tragedy here is Amie, who is a mostly invisible presence in the film and who had warned Treadwell that he was hell-bent on destruction and threatened to leave him. She was always nervous about the bears, but in the end she fought off her ten-foot tall attacker with a frying pan for six minutes before she too succumbed to his appetite.

In the film, we never hear the recording of their death (the bear approached too quickly for Timothy to get the cap off the video camera) but we watch Werner Herzog listening to it, while describing what he hears to one of Timothy's very close friends, who watches with tears in her eyes and a limp, open little mouth. Herzog has the good grace to listen only to part of the harrowing recording and then to advise the friend never, ever to listen to it, and to destroy it. I'm glad he did. There are sacred things, and such a recording should never, ever make it onto the internet for some hateful person to make a mockery of.

Amie, why did you stay with this adorable, petulant, nutjob? He said often enough that he was likely to wind up grizzly chow: did you fall prey (literally) to the all-too typical female fantasy that you could save your boyfriend from his own hubris and stupidity?

It's a very sad film, and the saddest, most infuriating thing to me wasn't Treadwell's Peter Pan-ish histrionics but the vicious letters written to his friends by right-wing fanatics after his death, crowing about there being one less spotted-owl loving Democrat in the world. Lord have mercy.

I can hardly blame Timothy for preferring to spend his days worshiping bears and foxes and kidding himself that he was one of them. Poor sad soul. Well, he certainly sucked the marrow out of life.

I wonder what Thoreau would have thought????


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