Timothy Treadwell, the title subject, spent 13 summers frolicking with Alaska's grizzly bears and other wildlife. As far removed from reality as he was from civilization, he believed himself to be a student and protector of the bears. But late one season, he and his girlfriend became a grisly lunch.
While Treadwell shot close to 100 hours of footage in the wilderness, his primary subjects were himself and his own relationship to the wild. Herzog utilizes the footage exactly as Treadwell had intended, crafting a movie about a childish drunk and pathological liar who thought he had found salvation among another species.
Throughout the source footage and the film, Treadwell observes, with Geraldo-style narration, the feeding and fighting habits of the grizzlies. But Treadwell is no dispassionate nature photog; he often finds himself interacting with the bears and their leavings. And he's not your typical mountain man, either; with a blond Prince Valiant hairdo and a penchant for saying "I love you" to every creature he meets, Treadwell comes across like a kiddie show host on Ecstasy.
In turns tragic and hilarious, Grizzly Man flows like snowmelt due to Herzog's opinionated narration and dramatic interviews with Treadwell's friends and family. Herzog clearly admires yet deeply disapproves of his subject; Treadwell consistently rationalized his annual bear treks as "protection," although the animals were hardly threatened in a national park, and his own interaction with the bears may have done more damage than any poachers could have.
In fact, Treadwell doesn't seem to get nature at all. When he comes upon a half-eaten fox in the woods, he mourns its death as some kind of cosmic injustice, and Herzog's not afraid to point out Treadwell's hypocrisy. (Try not to laugh too hard when the Herzog responds, "I believe the common character of the universe is not harmony, but hostility, chaos, and murder." In his heavy German accent, it's unintentional comedy gold.)
Through the remarkable footage - often done with multiple takes, costume changes, and free license with the facts - it becomes obvious that Treadwell came to view the certainty of his own death in the wilderness as preferable to the burden of civilized humanity. He got his wish, and everyone interviewed seems to think he had it coming (but they pity his mysterious girlfriend).
Timothy Treadwell wanted to be a grizzly bear, but instead he was a narcissistic, self-aggrandizing schizoid. With the help of Herzog, Treadwell demonstrates that even on the Alaskan plains one's humanity is inescapable.
Run time: 103 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 27th October 2005
Box Office USA: $2.9M
Distributed by: Lions Gate Releasing
Production compaines: Discovery Docs
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Fresh: 126 Rotten: 10
IMDB: 7.8 / 10
Director: Werner Herzog
Screenwriter: Werner Herzog
Starring: Timothy Treadwell as Himself, Kathleen Parker as Herself, Warren Queeney as Himself, Willy Fulton as Himself, Sam Egli as Himself