"We took four garbage bags of human remains out of that bear."
That horrific statement, made by one of the people who assisted with the recovery of the bodies of Timothy Treadwall and Ann Huguenard will stay with me for a long time.
"Grizzly Man", the new documentary from Werner Herzog, follows the life of Treadwell, giving us as complete a view as possible of a man who spent thirteen summers living with grizzly bears in the Alaskan wilderness. Painting a portrait of a strange, reclusive man, Herzog had a valuable resource in Treadwell himself. During the last five summers of his life, Treadwell took a video camera and recorded hundreds of hours of video of his interactions with the bears he called his friends.
What drove Treadwell to spend thirteen summers alone with these wild animals? An interview with his parents relates his frustrated attempts to become an actor; at one point he was close to getting the role eventually given to Woody Harrelson on "Cheers". When he lost this part, he was devastated, contributing to his newfound passion.
Treadwell gained a certain amount of notoriety. After starting a foundation, he began to visit classrooms and show his videotapes and talk to students about bears. This lead to an appearance on David Letterman's show. Letterman jokingly asks "I'm not going to open up the newspaper one day and find out you were killed by a bear am I?" eliciting laughter from his audience. It seems easy to make fun of Treadwell; slightly effeminate, with a Prince Valiant haircut, he is clearly uncomfortable around humans, taking everything they say very seriously. Treadwell seems much more comfortable interacting with the bears; the more time he spent alone with them, the more comfortable he became around them. Through interviews with his friends, it becomes clear that he favors the solitude and `friendship' of these beasts having difficulty relating to humans. He constantly and consistently professes his love for various bears and foxes and in the next breath warns viewers about the danger he faces on a daily basis. Many times, while taping various segments in the wilderness, he begins a tirade against some branch of the government or other. Basically, anyone he felt slighted by and he felt this way about a lot of people.
Herzog intercuts interviews with friends who describe Treadwell's passions and with various experts who seem disturbed at what he was attempting. These experts seem astonished that he would try to become a friend of these wild creatures. They state that the bears will never ultimately accept him, which Treadwell also seems to realize. He was a hyperactive guy; often immediately after talking about the dangers, he would immediately declare his love for some particular bear or fox.
Ultimately, everyone would be proven right. Treadwell, and his girlfriend, Amy, would be killed by a bear towards the end of his thirteenth summer with them. Their remains were found by the pilot, and friend, who ferried Treadwell back and forth to his summer home.
At their campsite, they found the last videotapes Treadwell made. Herzog shows the last few recorded images of Treadwell, as he stands near a new bear and talks about the animal ultimately suspected of killing them. After the images on the tape end, Herzog found that the machine was still running, but with the lens cap on capturing the sounds of their death at the paws of a hungry bear. Herzog listens to this, with headphones on, and then promptly tells Treadwell's friend, who has the tape, that she should never listen to it. Thankfully, we don't hear it either.
"Grizzly Man" is a fascinating portrait of a unique, obsessed, lonely man who clearly didn't fully understand the beasts he called his friends. Riveting filmmaking.