Let me state this immediately, Grizzly Man is not for the faint of heart or thinking. It raises more questions than it answers, and most importantly; the ultimate demise of Timothy Treadwell is a tragic result of serious unfortunate events. All that said, Grizzly Man is one of best documentaries I have seen. No matter how disturbing the experience may be.
As Werner Herzog rightly states towards the ending of this masterful documentary, it is not the nature of the bears into which the viewer is gaining an insight, but rather the nature of humanity. By focusing on ‘grizzly man’ Timothy Treadwell, Herzog is able to pose questions of remarkable profundity in a simple and unassuming way. Was Treadwell right to abandon human society in search of meaning and contentment with his life? Was his apparent clarity a facade? What is so wonderful is that Herzog is satisfied with asking the questions and leaving them unanswered, inviting the viewer to engage themselves into the debate.
As with all truly great documentaries, Herzog remains unobtrusive, and his opinions on his subject are never revealed. Although he admits a level of respect and admiration for the footage which Treadwell shoots, Herzog’s opinions on his lifestyle are left unsaid. In fact, the renowned director is incredibly sensitive in his handling of the subject, showing respect and compassion to both the eponymous bear-lover and his friends and family. Herzog’s narration is the highlight of this documentary, being seemingly peripheral to the action but heavily influencing the viewer’s perception of it.
Although ‘Grizzly Man’ is very much a character study of a paranoid yet inspired, unhinged yet seemingly content man, the nature footage is a key feature of the film. Some of the close-up footage of the bears is unlike anything I have seen before, with the Alaskan wilderness providing a stunning back-drop. The filmmakers have also been very canny in their editing of the footage, with it showing a seeming progression into madness from Treadwell – the loose ends of film after what he would have intended to be used being particularly insightful.
As both a nature documentary and as an example of introspective philosophy in film, ‘Grizzly Man’ is triumphant. Although the Grizzly Man’s footage alone would make for fascinating viewing, Herzog uses Timothy Treadwell’s quest as a springboard for questions that relate to everyone. Should we be scared by Treadwell’s lack of fear or should we respect it? Should we envy his apparent clarity, his having discovered meaning in life, or should be feel disconcerted by his paranoia and distrust for the human world? Herzog poses these questions without the grandeur that they may usually hold, and his simple yet poignant narration unobtrusively elevates this documentary to a status it would otherwise not have.