Published Oct 01, 2005I've generally been suspicious of Werner Herzog's attraction to epic folly and prophets in the wilderness. Yet he seems to be the ideal person to tell the story of Timothy Treadwell, an amateur naturist who lived amongst grizzly bears on and off for 13 years until one mauled him and his girlfriend to death.
Treadwell obsessively documented his "study" of the animals, and Herzog brilliantly reveals his character through the footage, but it's up in the air as to the viability of his project. Certain environmentalists praise his conservation efforts while others regard him as a dangerous screwball who refuses to respect natural boundaries. And though he's loved by friends there's no denying a sense of alienation that drove him from people into the less judgmental arms of animals.
Herzog has his usual moments of arrogance, such as when he imperiously advises Treadwell's ex-girlfriend and beneficiary not to listen to the audio of the fatal mauling. But he's surprisingly lucid in dealing with his subject's personality kinks, at once respectful of Treadwell's altruistic devotion to the bears while exploring the personality kinks that might have driven him to recklessness and death. And while Herzog is perhaps a tad quick to impose his own romantic worldview when his subject's focus differs, there's no denying the director's clear head in dealing with Treadwell's Quixotic ravings and delusions of grandeur.
It's gripping and heartbreaking to think that this man's greatest strengths were the result of his greatest weaknesses, and I defy anyone to come away from the film with the same assumptions with which they entered. It's a guaranteed discussion-starter for conservationists, fans of the director, and the uninitiated in search of a compelling documentary. (Maple)