Not quite as grizzled as I had hoped.
Directed by Werner Herzog.
I probably won’t be the last to say that Timothy Treadwell was a complete nutjob.
For those not in “the know,” Timothy Treadwell was a guy who spent 13 summers in the Alaskan wilderness with bears. In September of 2003 him and his girlfriend were attacked, killed, and partially eaten by a wild bear. In this documentary famed filmmaker Werner Herzog examines the life and death of Timothy Treadwell.
I had problems with watching this documentary. It’s difficult not to watch this film and make a judgment on the guy; his presence really does ask for it. In one moment Treadwell is enthusiastic and talking about how being around bears is dangerous; that they’ll decapitate you, eat you, etc. The next moment he’s trying to hang out with them and you have the feeling in the back of your head that at any time he could break out a guitar and sing, “Kumbayah.”
But Herzog thanfully never lets the film get to that point. With 100+ hours of footage to use Herzog shows a man, a guy, who borders on megalomania in the field of bears. In Treadwell’s world he’s right and everyone else is wrong. He strives to become a bear and leave the trappings of human existence.
And who is Timothy Treadwell? In the beginning a bright, young kid named Timothy Dexter who was a star athlete and received a swimming scholarship. Once in college he got into drug abuse and dropped out, moving back home. He then moved out to San Diego and changed his last name to Treadwell, auditioning for roles and supposedly coming in second to Woody Harrelson for a role on “Cheers.” Following that he fell into alcoholism until he saw a bear and realized that, in order to understand the bear, he had to shed his limitations.
The documentary tries to even-out the scales by interviewing others who met, or knew of, Timothy Treadwell. The pilot who flew him in and out was quiet but showed Herzog to the places Treadwell camped at. A former girlfriend of three years explained how she met him and was given the watch taken from what was left of his arm after the bear ate him. Another friend spoke of how she would see him each summer and keep his stuff over the winter. The coroner who examined his remains described what was on the final moments of audio taken when Treadwell and his girlfriend were attacked. And finally, there was a helicopter pilot who said that the bears probably left him alone for the most part because they “probably thought he was retarded or something.”
My minor gripe on the interviews is that they seemed “staged.” It’s as if Herzog told them “you are playing the character of you. I have a camera. Now, react.” Maybe others like and/or appreciate this style, but I found the coroner “acting” out what happened to Treadwell and his girlfriend unintentionally funny. Whether or not this is what Herzog was going for, you be the guess.
What Herzog leaves the audience to do is to make up their own minds about Treadwell. Doing this review it’s hard for me to hold back how much I disagreed with how Treadwell went about doing what he did: staying among the bears. I cite the late Steve Irwin (“The Crocodile Hunter”). Irwin may have been crazy, but for every ounce of crazy he was intelligent. Irwin had friends and comrades within the ecological community who knew him. Not everyone approved of everything he did, but he was applauded for bringing attention to the public about the dangers of wildlife. Irwin may have been a TV personality, but he had the years of experience and background.
And that’s the failure of Timothy Treadwell; the belief in image. The W’s and H questions can and probably will continue as to his reasoning for wanting to become a bear. Was he on a suicide mission? Trying to do the impossible? Did he not care about other people? Much like any other person who has taken a personal journey I’m inclined to believe that in the end, Timothy Treadwell found exactly what he was looking for, and in the darkest part of his mind, expected to find.
My grade: B-