Grizzly Man (2005/Werner Herzog/USA) DOC +++
Herzog watches lovingly the footage filmed by this self-made actor-director, Timothy Treadwell, ecolo-activist who felt invested in the mission to protect Grizzly bears against the evil of civilisation in the remote wilderness of Alaska. A captivating posthumous biopic documentary put together with the video remains of a reckless solitary adventure.
Citing his diary and interviewing his relatives isn't as powerful as watching the video segments he himself directed and dramatized a few feets away from fierce animals on their very territory. Stitching together all the takes of his reportage, that were made for the editing table, is like assembling a puzzle with missing pieces. A one-man-made TV reality show.
The man is a frustrated actor showing off not a scientist, he's naive or maybe just nuts. The exploration of his upbringing and addiction background comfirms. Nobody could dispute however his passion for nature, his sincere interest and understanding of animals behavior, and most of all his confident bravery! I say this man is a hero, even if a reasonable society thinks he's out of his mind. He's one of these lunatic pioneers on the edge of charted maps who are always criticized for going too far. There are more stupid ways to die than that. And he knew exactly the risks. which he repeats on and on in his videos to educate children. The crude details of a violent death were endlessly running through his head as he spells out the words decapitation, disembowelment, slashes...
One could argue there is no obvious redeeming value to get in arm's way as such, unlike a war reporter for example, but that would be overlooking the existential dimension of this life lived fully to the limits as an art.
Herzog's narrator voiceover sounds a little judgemental, as he seeks to parallel with his relationship with Klaus Kinski on Aguirre. But he doesn't make the mistake to postpone the revelation of Treadwell's death for a final climax. He also makes obvious we're not going to ear the soundtrack of his death. At the same time he merely conceals the manipulation to get his interviewees to say what he wants: the travelling backward interrupting the coroner's speech, the staging of Timmy's watch handed out to Gizzly People president, the scene when Herzog appears on screen while listening to the death tape. This might be a conscious critique of how far TV/Cinema can exploit the desir of people to be filmed.
I didn't like when Herzog silence Timmy's curse words with a moralizing speech that misses the spark of truth revealed right there by this outburst of rage. Herzog wastes his time on the "what" instead of analyzing the "why". We don't care if Treadwell is right or not in insulting the National Park guards... What's taking place here is a genuine "moment" of symbolic pride.
This is the end of the summer, his expedition is over, he is unarmed and alive for the twelveth or thirteenth time in an everyday life-threatening journey. It's not a one-strike fluke, he challenged and proved it every year.This intensity of survival instinct drains a lot of energy to constantly prevent an imminent hazard. Imagine the level of controlled fear when he frequently glances back at the bear standing right behind him as he talks to the camera. His eyes and mind are always on watch. Thus when the season is done, and the danger is gone, the adrenaline rush falls dramatically, and lets out of his chest this puerile ressentment towards people who didn't believe in him and underestimated his challenge.
Treadwell acts out in front of his own camera, speaks to the world for the record, and shares his frightening promiscuity with death, be it clumsy or misplaced. In another take he say it out loud, nobody has ever faced human predators this close and for so long. I believe he has the right to brag about it.
Treadwell is not an isolated case. Dian Fossey with gorillas, Sigfried & Roy with tigers, people living with wolves, people who mingle with sharks or alligators, snake charmers... Wild life is a fascinating attraction to humans and some want to cross the safety fences.
There was this freaky video on the net where a guy jumped into the lions compound at the zoo to tell them to accept Jesus as a savior. The guy was clearly deranged, so totally fearless, he didn't even back off when the claws hit his leg. He kept an authoritative voice and a finger pointing dominant posture, just like Treadwell with his teasing bears. This is probably what made the lion think twice before eating him up.
So Treadwell was onto something with his "kind warrior" theory. The mind confidence replaces the physical superiority in a territorial face-off. That's how the little mongoose defy the mighty cobra. As long as there is no provocation fierce animals prefer to avoid contact especially if the opponent shows no fear to intimidative postures. Maybe animals sense the intellectual ascendant of humans even though they are no match to their jaws. But it takes serious guts to believe in this theory with a bear growling in your face.
In the light of his personal history, I see this reportage as a setup for an exit with panache.
He fancies himself a public enemy, victim of an fantasized manhunt, pursued by friendly tourists who leave smiley faces on his campsite. I wonder what was the detterence of his presence among the grizzlies if he hid away as soon as people came in and threw stones at his bears. He did nothing to stop them just to preserve the mystery of his legend. Real people afraid him more than bears! The clash of titans sequence between two males competing for a female and the aftermath debriefed by Timmy full of empathy for the defeated bear is quite telling.
He refused the mediocre death of an everyday-man, or to be caught and condemned by the justice of humans. The frustrated actor who almost passed out on O.D., and watched in the eye the criminals sentenced to death at the courthouse had a repressed ego-trip that couldn't express itself and found the most tragic way to claim his need for fame and grandeur. It's most unusual for a biologist to share intimate love-life issues during a field study. Maybe he was afraid to leave life, and truly enjoyed this sympathetic indifference of animals, for the liberty civilisation didn't allow him.
I think Timothy Treadwell wanted to stage his own death, to pick his executioner, an adversary of his stature. When the Ripper came to take him he made sure the camera was recording, and we know he met his expected fate with honor and courage like he always lived in this inhospitable environment. Meanwhile the secret role of his last girlfriend, Amie Huguenard, who was crazy enough to follow him to the heart of danger, gives a truly romantic, passionate ending to this tragedy, almost creating a universal myth bigger than fiction.
(s) +++ (w) ++ (m) +++ (i) +++ (c) ++