11/13/2005: "Grizzly Man? (Minor spoilers)"
Last night I went and saw the new documentary by Werner Herzog called Grizzly Man. It is an absolutely riveting film about the life of Timothy Treadwell, the California surfer boy who spent 13 summers living in a tent in the Katmai National forest here in Alaska, filming grizzly bears until he and his girlfriend were eaten by one in October 2003.
I really debated with myself over whether I wanted to see this film or not. I was afraid it might be too disturbing for me. I remember when it happened as though it were yesterday, I had read every single article about Timothy and the tragedy in Katmai, that I could get my hands on, and commented about it several times in this blog. Getting eaten by a bear has always been a big fear of mine. I've done a lot of back country hiking and camping over the years, including inside Denali National Park which is grizzly central.
I even had to watch a bear safety film when I first started working at UAS, and actually saw one run across campus on my second day on the job. I've read several different Alaska Bear Tales books (lame, sensationalized and not recommended), about various human/bear encounters and attacks, I've been on trails with warning signs of recent bear sightings...and on one hiking trip a couple summers ago my friend's dog treed a bear cub, which was crying and brought the mama calling and her growl was the scariest thing I've ever heard in my life.
Another time on a trip with my sister and Rick, we saw a bear in the distance from our camp. Jenny woke up early in the morning because she heard huffing and puffing outside the tent but I was so tired I just told her to go back to sleep. The next morning we found bear tracks around our camp site.
There are things you do in bear country and things you don't do. For one thing, you never eat in or near your tent. You don't even brush your teeth in your tent, and don't drip food onto your clothes...and make sure your face and fingers are clean. You cook and cache your food a good distance away from your camp site. Bears have an excellent sense of smell and you don't want to be in any way associated with food. And you never want to take them by surprise, get between a mama and her cubs, and being able to recognize a fake out "charge" from an attack is important.
All that said, watching Timothy Treadwell film these grizzlies at such close range, and even tap them on their noses and treat them like old friends, well, it really freaked me out. I kept sitting there going, "you have to be fucking kidding me!” The fact that he was able to do that for 13 summers simply amazes me. Say what you will about the guy, he was indeed misguided in his efforts, but the man had balls!
God, this film has really affected me. I found that I laughed out loud through much of the film (as did my friends that I saw it with) and not in a mean spirited way, but because this man was a total trip. I actually find that I like him a lot more since watching him in action. To say the film had elements of the surreal would be a vast understatement. And the footage, holy shit!
There was a scene of the wind blowing this tall grass that made me want to cry it was so beautiful. I can't remember the last time I felt so confused about a film, or more accurately, by my response to a film. I guess it's something you'll just have to experience for yourselves. I'm not sure if the experience will be different for people who don't live in Alaska or who have never had a close encounter with a bear, but I think it would be impossible for anyone to see this film without being moved in some way by it.
There is this clip from when Timothy was on David Letterman and David says "Now, are we going to open the paper one day and read that you've been eaten by bears" and the audience (Dave's audience) laughs. Timothy talks repeatedly on his own footage about the very real possibility of being eaten. And then there's the coroner in Grizzly Man, someone straight out of Twin Peaks...or the man who flew in to help remove their remains who says "he got what he deserved"...or the description from the bush pilot who was supposed to pick them up who found the bear chewing on a human rib cage who sings the song Coyotes at the end...or the fact that Herzog’s narration comes in to editorialize bizarrely, like when he says (paraphrased) “Here, I disagree with Treadwell, nature isn’t in balance, it is cruelty, death and destruction".
OK, I'll shut up now. But seriously, if you have the chance to see this film, you really should. It makes an impact.
Btw, I tried to find the actual Herzog quote from the film, and in searching for it I found this great blog called Defective Yeti. Ain’t the Internet grand?