This is my first A review for the site so I should define what makes an “A” movie in my book. The two main things that have to be in the mix for me to really dig a movie are innovation and complexity. If I’ve seen a ton of films exactly like the one I’m seeing it probably isn’t a masterpiece. If I know precisely what will happen next I’m probably not going to be enthralled. Grizzly Man has neither of these problems. I had no freaking idea where it was going and I have never seen a film like it before. Simply a stunning effort.
What would happen if you crossed Andy Dick and Carson from “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” and then put them in a Christopher Guest film about Grizzly bears? Something akin to Grizzly Man is my guess. I’m not saying the film is meant to be hilarious, though it is at times, I’m saying it mines the ground between absurdity and tragedy so effectively that sometimes it’s hard to figure out if you’re amused or appalled, disturbed or delighted from each moment to the next.
Grizzly Man is the documentary of Timothy Treadwell, a self proclaimed “protector of the Grizzly bear”. Timothy spent 13 years living among the Grizzlies in Alaska, and the movie is culled from over one hundred hours of footage from his last five summers. Thankfully we learn a grizzly ate Tim and his girlfriend within the first few minutes of the film because it would be pointless if that was the payoff.
To say Timothy is nuts would be the understatement of the year, like saying Liz Taylor might be hard to stay married to. The man is a Symphony of Crazy. I’m not talking crazy as in a DMV line, or your friend who eats too much cheese every meal, I mean stark raving mad. The type of fellow that you’d spend a few minutes with and then remember you had an urgent appointment far, far away. I can hear people now, “But Laremy, wouldn’t a naturalist spending time in the wild with the Grizzly require a certain type of derring-do, a wild restless spirit?” It does indeed. That’s not what this fellow is packing under the hood, however, he’s not the Crocodile Hunter. He’s “Delusions R Us.”
This being my first Werner Herzog film I didn’t really know what I was in for. Herzog narrates the film, which at first was distracting, however as the movie goes on you start hoping Warner will speak soon simply to bring the mood back from the edge of madness. The narration becomes a stabilizing force until it builds to a crescendo where Herzog’s own visions of what we are seeing start to play out.
The first hour of the film is good but the last half is majestic. The epiphany was the story of extreme worldviews. In one, giant Grizzlies were personal friends with names like “Mr. Chocolate” who needed protection. In the other everything in nature is probably out to get you in a murderous chaotic rage. Neither are the truth, but neither are patently false either.
Is this film for everyone? No, I’m guessing it will piss a ton of people off. I found it to be fascinating on many levels; I think it’s the documentary of the year. Ahead of March of the Penguins even, but it might not add up for everyone. A guy I saw it with thought it was no better then average. We talked adamantly about it, and I closed my argument with, “Say what you want, but that dude GOT EATEN BY A BEAR!.
My friend, also caught in the moment of insanity, tried to make his own point by saying, “Yeah, Eaten up! He was eaten up!” His point being this fellow was so crazy that the film didn’t matter. Maybe you had to be there, but for me that encapsulated the spirit of madness, the spirit of joy and love Timothy poured into his work. You’ll feel a range of emotions for Tim throughout this film from amazement at his spirit and admiration for his bravery to anger at his naivete and pity for his lost soul.
Timothy Treadwell was certainly not your typical guy and Grizzly Man isn’t your typical movie. It shows a view of nature that will be foreign to many and the life of a man that will be mocked by some. For my part, I was utterly enthralled throughout and felt as if I was watching the movie not only through Herzog’s eyes as the director, but also as Treadwell in the wild.