Grizzly Man (2005)

R   |    |  Documentary, Biography

Grizzly Man (2005) Poster

A devastating and heart-rending take on grizzly bear activists Timothy Treadwell and Amie Huguenard, who were killed in October of 2003 while living among grizzly bears in Alaska.

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  • Geoffrey Gilmore at an event for Grizzly Man (2005)
  • Werner Herzog in Grizzly Man (2005)
  • Werner Herzog at an event for Grizzly Man (2005)
  • Timothy Treadwell in Grizzly Man (2005)
  • Timothy Treadwell in Grizzly Man (2005)
  • Timothy Treadwell in Grizzly Man (2005)

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Werner Herzog


Werner Herzog

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13 January 2006 | troy-125
| Portrait of a Man Unable to Bear the World he Lived In
Herzog's "Grizzly Man" is a miraculous documentary. He started by collecting hundreds of hours of video tape shot by the movie's subject, Timothy Treadwell. The director then culls through the footage and assembles a fascinating portrait of this uniquely bold (and clearly troubled) human being: Treadwell spent 13 summers living amongst grizzly bears in the wilds of Alaska, before being killed by one in the summer of 2003.

Treadwell's footage is gorgeous, and at times heart-stopping: a grizzly battle caught on tape is the stuff Animal Planet would kill for. But the footage goes beyond simply revealing the harsh yet beautiful reality of the Alaskan wilderness. The camera soon becomes a silent confidant to Treadwell's self-obsessed confessions. For one, he sees himself as the singular savior of the wildlife preserve he camps at and the creatures that reside there. But he also sees himself becoming increasingly less connected to the real world he lives in 9 months out of the year. The footage here is most poignant, revealing Treadwell's inner struggles. It paints a picture of a lonely man searching, perhaps desperately, for purpose in a world he feels has rejected him. Most eerily prescient are Treadwell's repeated remarks about how he would die for the bears, though his eventual death does not appear to be the martyrdom he so clearly sought.

This is where the film is most riveting - in Treadwell's footage, focused on the man, the bears, and the force of nature around them. Less compelling are Herzog's talking head interviews with Treadwell's friends and family - although they do help to solve (as much as possible) the puzzle of where Timothy came from, what lead him to the bears, and why he was killed.

It would not be a Herzog film with the director's own philosophical palette framing the story. Herzog's commentary reveals his longstanding view that nature is cruel and that chaos is the constant in our life experience, not harmony. That Treadwell saw beauty and soul in the bears seems to be beside the point, since ultimately their need for sustenance made them turn on their self-appointed protector.

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Did You Know?


In the DVD's extra-feature section about the documentary's music-recording sessions with Richard Thompson and fellow musicians, Werner Herzog explains his vision for the material he asked the musicians to improvise. For instance, underneath the slow fight of two bears, cello and the upright bass are heard menacing. Also when Treadwell swims near a bear, Herzog explains that this is not the kind of harmony it appears to be, but instead it's a situation of dangerous foreshadowing.


Timothy Treadwell: I'm out in the prime cut of big green. Behind me is Ed and Rowdy, members of an up-and-coming sub-adult gang. They're challenging everything, including me. Goes with the territory. If I show weakness, if I retreat, I may be hurt, I may be killed. I ...


Werner Herzog describes Timothy Treadwell's last tape, while telling his friend never to listen to it, as always being "a White Elephant in the room". "White Elephant" is a different figure of speech from "Elephant in the room". "White Elephant" means an extravagant but useless project; "Elephant in the room" means something unspoken that is nevertheless obvious.

Alternate Versions

The DVD from Lions Gate Home Entertainment opens with a disclaimer stating that the film has been changed from its theatrical version. The sole change is in the first ten minutes where Herzog explains that Treadwell had become a semi-celebrity. In the theatrical version a clip is shown of Treadwell on CBS' "Late Show with David Letterman." Treadwell comes out and explains what he has been doing and Letterman quips, "We're not going to open a newspaper one day and read about you being eaten by a bear are we?" In the DVD version this exchange is omitted and replaced with a NBC news segment of Treadwell being interviewed. When the interviewer asks if he would ever want a gun to protect himself, Treadwell states that he "would never, ever kill a bear even in the defense of my own life."


McDill (as Bob McDill)
Performed by Don Edwards
Courtesy of Universal-Polygram Int. Publ., Inc.
On behalf of itself and Ranger Bob Music (ASCAP), Warner Bros. Records, Inc. by arrangement with Warner Strategic Marketing


Plot Summary

Synopsis (WARNING: Spoilers)


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