Grizzly Man (2005)

Grizzly Man - Werner Herzog

For the serious backcountry traveler, stories of young men who wander into the wilderness and never return are inarguably personal. What drives human beings to escape to the wilds, and at what point does it pass beyond self-actualizing adventure and become meaningless tragedy?

Jon Krakauer offers a fine exploration of this theme in his book, Into the Wild. Famed director Werner Herzog explores even more fertile ground with his remarkable film, ‘Grizzly Man’, about the life and death of Timothy Treadwell.

In October 2003, Timothy Treadwell, a self-proclaimed Grizzly expert, was camping, unarmed, in Grizzly country in the Alaskan wilderness when he and his female companion were killed and eaten by a Grizzly bear. Afterward, Treadwell was loudly denounced by many as a fool or worse who had gotten exactly what he deserved.

The broader story, however, is much more complicated.

Herzog shows us a portrait of a very troubled young man who nonetheless accomplished the extraordinary feat of living for 13 consecutive summers in Grizzly country without so much as a can of bear spray for personal defense. Treadwell may have been deeply misguided, but ‘Grizzly Man’ shows he was certainly not inexperienced when it came to living amongst bears.

Treadwell found meaning in his otherwise unsuccessful life by commiting himself to a mission of protecting the bears, whom he clearly loved. And yet it is difficult to say whether his "mission" benefited or harmed the creatures he cared so much about.

Moreover, we, the viewer, can't help but notice how much difficulty Treadwell has when it comes to surviving and thriving in the human world. Treadwell appears to escape to Grizzly country not as a choice but rather as a necessity.

It is thus the perfect irony that Treadwell's life ends when he unexpectedly aborts his travel plans following an argument with an airline ticket counter attendant (he was attempting to fly home to New York for the winter).

Undoubtedly some viewers will remain unmoved by Timothy's story, but for me, this was a provacative and disturbing glimpse into the soul of a man who sought to escape his demons by fleeing to the backcountry.

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