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  • Lynn Neumann

Review: "Grizzly Man"

"Grizzly Man" is a documentary film by Werner Herzog, examining the explorations of Timothy Treadwell up until the day of his death. Treadwell was an active environmentalist who dedicated thirteen years of his life to protecting wildlife, filming approximately one hundred hours of footage in the Alaskan wilderness. Herzog provides narration over Treadwell’s footage. Also included are interviews with scientists, officials, members of Treadwell’s family and a few of his friends.


Herzog’s main claim is that, though Treadwell’s love for animals was somewhat admirable, his inability to see the danger he was involving himself in would inevitably lead to his death. In one of the interviews with Treadwell’s parents they speak to Herzog of Treadwell’s love for teddy bears and how he would take one with him anywhere. We see this teddy bear in some of Treadwell’s footage during the storm in Alaska. This reflects Treadwell’s inability to differentiate between the fictional and the imaginary. Though it connotes childlike innocence, given the scenario, people should find it disconcerting.

Treadwell’s childlike innocence is further reflected in his body language and tone. An example of this is when he films a bear scratching itself against a tree. When it walks away he takes its place and shows his excitement, using a high tone and animated facial expressions. When a baby fox dies, Treadwell kneels down beside it with a somber expression, saying, “I don’t understand.” This shows how Treadwell does not understand death as adults do and that he views it in the way a child would.


Herzog’s narration often fixates on Treadwell’s childlike behavior and lack of understanding. Although Treadwell had complete reign over his footage, the bears had the authority in these situations, a fact that Treadwell’s childlike innocence could not acknowledge.

Throughout the film, Treadwell represents environmentalists and animal lovers as obsessive and eccentric, maintaining a distorted view of nature. In the opening scene he, in a calm yet theatrical tone, refers to himself as a samurai and a flower of peace. He also represents environmentalists as careless, unlawful and disrespectful, as he repeatedly breaks laws by coming too close to bears, setting up camps near to their dens, and interfering in the salmon runs, though he saw all of this as part of an admirable protest.


The film maintains an observational format as Herzog remains unseen, showing footage recorded from Treadwell, and clips of interviews in which Herzog remains off-camera, thereby heightening emotional tension and encouraging the audience to become more engaged and sympathetic towards those being interviewed.

There is power in not hearing the horror of Treadwell and Huguenard’s deaths, only listening to descriptions of how they occurred. The footage of Treadwell that is offered I found to be interesting, none of it being dull or without purpose -- it is unfortunate so many documentary filmmakers find it acceptable to make works that are aimless and self-absorbed.


"Grizzly Man" is one of the best documentaries I have seen, and despite its subtle weakness in pacing it is worthy of a watch alongside some of Herzog’s other efforts. It is well constructed, lacking cheap gimmicks or dramatization, remaining absorbing and informative, never becoming bogged-down in its own explorations.


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