There is a difference between domestic animals and wild animals. Domestic animals can be trained to live within the human world to where we have come to love and accept them as family pets. On the other hand, wild animals are animals that we cannot tame, hence the term wild. Mother Nature holds thousands of different species of wild animals that humans have come to accept as untamable. Still, there is a small portion of those who believe that wild animals can be our friends and reciprocate human emotion. In this case, Timothy Treadwell, a nature lover, believed he could become one with grizzly bears and make these wild animals his friends.
Treadwell thought he was doing something good by interacting with these grizzly bears, but instead he was disregarding Mother Nature and interfering with nature’s natural course. For thirteen summers, Treadwell would make his way to Alaska to be with what he loved, and what he thought would accept him: grizzly bears. However, due to a turn of unfortunate events and inanity on Treadwell’s last expedition, he and his girlfriend Amie Huguenard were attacked, killed, and partially devoured by a grizzly bear.
The love that Treadwell had for these bears was short lived, but his legacy is everlasting. German filmmaker, Werner Herzog, took on the challenge of documenting Treadwell’s life out in Alaska. Treadwell had spent thirteen summers in Alaska to be with, and document the lives of grizzly bears. During this time span, he lived in the wild like a bear would; he got up close and personal with them by touching and petting them, giving them names, and even interacting with other wild animals such as foxes.
By this point, he was getting too close with these animals and violated many codes that the park enforced. Treadwell seemed to have no boundary between him and these grizzly bears, as he would treat them like his family and friends. Herzog notices this and takes advantage of this fact to create his story. In the movie Grizzly Man, Herzog’s personal belief in the absurdity behind Treadwell’s interaction with wildlife over the thirteen summers manifested itself after it was apparent that Treadwell had crossed the invisible line separating man and beast.
Herzog then supports his worldview by exposing the fallacies and contradictions in Treadwell’s films and portrays him as a symbol of anxiety and detachment to the human world. Treadwell’s love for bears was uncontrollable to such a point where he began to disrespect the natural course of Mother Nature. In the film, there are many scenes in which Treadwell interacts with the grizzly bears in an inappropriate way. Thirty minutes into the film, Herzog selects a scene in which we see Treadwell swimming with a grizzly bear.
When he tries to pet the bear, the bear flinches at Treadwell’s touch. Grizzly bears are not accustomed to human interaction, let alone humans touching them. Treadwell is inserting himself into Mother Nature where he clearly does not belong. In the narration to this scene, Sven Haakanson, a museum director in Alaska says, “Where I grew up, the bears avoid us and we avoid them. They’re not habituated to us. If I look at it from my culture, Timothy Treadwell crossed a boundary that we have lived with for 7,000 years. It’s an unspoken boundary, and unknown boundary.
But when we know we’ve crossed it, we pay the price. ” Haakanson has had years of experience in the Alaskan terrain, and knows the habitual ways of the grizzly bears. He states that there is an “unknown boundary” between man and beast and he has to respect this boundary. If he does not, then there will be consequences. Treadwell’s naivete to the habits of the grizzly bears cost him his life out in the wilderness with these wild animals. He did not respect this boundary, and because of it, not only did he hurt himself, but the bears he was trying to save and protect.
Many of Herzog’s films are meant to “portray humans as frail creatures caught in the gap between an indifferent nature and a punishing God” (Newton). Herzog’s view of the world is not what an ordinary person would view the world as. He sees it as “chaotic and hostile” while Treadwell has a belief in the “perfection of nature” (Spiceman). Herzog manipulates clips of Treadwell’s films in order to portray Treadwell in a way showing his want to be one with the bears, but also a more troubled side. His organization and placement of these scenes allow us to see Treadwell’s fight between man and civilization, and man and wilderness.
Treadwell is yearning to be with the bears. He gives them childish names, tries to pet them, and even gets angry and hits the Grinch when she gets too close to him and tries to bite him. His lust to be with the bears takes control of his rational thoughts so much that he makes a fool of himself. He no longer wants to live within the human world, but would rather live with the wild grizzly bears. His “perfection of nature” clouds his judgment of these wild animals who he thinks he can become friends with and help protect them.
But in his attempts to protect the bears, he does the complete opposite. Herzog uses this film to advance his own idea and worldview that “nature is a dangerous thing, and that we are always at odds with it…” (Roberto M. ). Mother Nature is very unpredictable: its weather, its animals, and its ability to change instantaneously from serenity and beauty to chaos and hostility. Treadwell knew the risks that he was taking, as he said towards the beginning of the film, “There are times when my life is on the precipice of death and that these bears can bite, they can kill. Not completely oblivious to the world that is around him, Treadwell knows that he is risking his life. Still, he would much rather risk his life living with the bears than living with humanity. He believes that nature will be perfect and provide him the sanctuary that he has been looking for. However, his fantasy comes to a halt when he sees a dead fox, half eaten by wolves, as well as a cub’s paw eaten by cannibalistic bears. He realizes that this wildlife is just as heartless and troublesome as the real world and cannot grasp that it is only the way of the world.
Survival of the fittest, and death of weaker ones only help make the strong stronger. Herzog chooses clips that show how Treadwell is doing more harm than he is doing good as well as how disconnected Treadwell is from the world. Herzog conducts a few interviews with bear experts and park rangers that explain how Treadwell is harming Mother Nature and disrespecting the bears. In the movie, there is a scene when Treadwell sees writing on a log stating, “Hi Timothy, see you in summer 2001” and a rock with a smiley face drawn on it.
Through harmless horseplay, the people that came to visit the land and wrote these things were only teasing Treadwell. However, Treadwell took these signs as a threat and thought that these people were out to get him when in fact they were not. His childish tantrums are also shown in certain clips Herzog chose to use in his film. Towards the end of the movie, we see Treadwell ranting on about how the government is screwing him over and hurting the bears when the government has given more help to these bears than Treadwell ever has in the thirteen summers he visited.
He is livid with the park service and curses them out many times. We see a rage in Treadwell that was not shown in other scenes. “He is fighting civilization himself,” Herzog says grimly. We see his detachment from the human society and realize that he is only trying to escape. Treadwell thought that since the human society did not accept him, he would be able to join the world of the grizzly bears and be happy. Although he was happy for three to four months out of the year, he still faced issues that could not be solved.
Treadwell is unable to reconnect to the human world and seeks out love and compassion from these wild beasts. Timothy Treadwell lived for these bears and tragically died by the paws of one. His intentions were to educate the public about the lives of these wild animals and show his passion for the bears. Although he did not do much to protect the lives of these bears like he said he was going to do, he believed in his own mind that what he was doing was right. Nature was a part of Treadwell’s identity; it was what he knew best.
However, his childish passion for nature did not protect him from the merciless effects of nature; it only reinforces Herzog’s worldview that nature is relentless and unforgiving. Herzog believes that “the common denominator of the universe is not harmony, but chaos, hostility, and murder. ” In Treadwell’s case, this holds true. Nature laughed in the face of Treadwell’s attempt to assimilate and live harmoniously amongst the grizzly bears. His love for the grizzly bears could not save him from an inevitable death.