We never hear the audio. When documentarian and nature enthusiast Timothy Treadwell and his girlfriend Amie Huguenard were killed by a bear attack on October 6, 2003, the moment of their deaths was captured in audio form by one of Treadwell’s cameras. In the documentary Grizzly Man, director Werner Herzog has access to the recording, and we see him listening to it, shocked and disturbed. But we never hear it ourselves, thankfully. The reaction of Herzog gives us all the information we need.
One of the most fascinating of all character studies, Herzog’s Grizzly Man offers a profile of Treadwell, who shot more than 100 hours of footage of himself living among bears in a national park in Alaska. Treadwell saw himself as the bears’ protector. He felt he had gained their trust, and defended them from poachers. Park rangers felt he was doing more harm than good, and was lucky he had lasted as long as he did.
Herzog lets us hear from all sides on Treadwell and his actions. We see conversations with his close friends and from people who felt him crazy. Crucially, we also hear from Treadwell, with dozens of scenes from the footage he shot showing his relationship with the bears, including (perhaps) the one that took his life. Treadwell gives them pet names and ascribes them personalities, like they were his pets. Herzog is more direct. “This blank stare speaks only of a half-bored interest in food,” he says over footage of a bear.
No matter one’s opinion of Treadwell and his tactics, Grizzly Man provides a memorable snapshot of a memorable human being, and a moving look at the deep depths of obsession. Sometimes, we disappear into a reality we create for ourselves and we don’t recognize the danger until it’s too late. Treadwell thought himself an expert and friend of the bears he lived among for so long. His love and confidence eventually cost him and Huguenard their lives.
Grizzly Man is available for streaming on Amazon Prime.