It wasn’t that long ago when wild beasts roamed the earth. Lions, tigers, woolly haired mammoths and even elephants traipsed over the changing ecology of the Middle East up to the start of the early 15th century. Lions remain as the roaring yet watchful emblem of Jerusalem.
Now humans are the wild beasts that dominate, and in many cases, destroy, other species and their habitats. Man’s dominion has brought us to this environmental predicament, and only within the past couple of hundred years.
It is this wider picture that is addressed in Werner Herzog’s stunning documentary ‘Grizzly Man’, out now on DVD (and available to rent from The Third Ear stores country-wide). Ostensibly exploring the erratic and tragic life of Timothy Treadwell, a maverick young American, who found his life’s passion in being with and studying wild bears in Alaska. This he did for 13 summers, until one ate him and his girlfriend.
Herzog has constructed Treadwell’s life through access to the 100 hours of footage that Treadwell shot of himself and the bears, although it is mainly footage of him talking about bears, sometimes with a backdrop of bears. There are extraordinary sequences here – a bear fight, frightening even to this hardy viewer; the glory of unspoilt wilderness, and Treadwell’s touching connection to a fox and her cubs.
We see Treadwell talking to the camera an hour before his appauling death (an odd interview with a highly animated coroner details what probably happened, and what was found at the aftermath), and hear him ranting about the human world that he alleges ‘seeks to destroy everything’, as he gestures to the pristine wilderness and some foraging bears.
About ¾ of the way through the film, the director makes clear his own view is different to Treadwell’s. Director Herzog uses a close-up shot into a bear’s eyes, which he describes in narration as “coldly indifferent”, to illustrate how foolish and naïve Treadwell really was. Social misfit and recovering alcoholic, or pioneering environmental warrior, whose championing of a particular cause embroiled him in the danger which led to his grizzly death? Every viewer of this disturbing but vital film will have to decide for themselves, and aside from the tragedy of the loss of life (the bear was shot too, by those who came looking for Treadwell), it raises tough questions about our relationship with those we share the wild world with.
If you can’t rent, and must buy, see: Grizzly Man