This fascinating documentary about the death of bear
enthusiast Timothy Treadwell at the claws of the animals he loved marks one of the 50-some documentaries and features from acclaimed German director Werner Herzog, yet Herzog actually is the movie’s weakness. In telling Treadwell’s story, which includes the 13 summers he spent in remote Alaska living among grizzly bears, Herzog continually overstates his own film’s significance. Constantly musing in voice-over narration about
what his picture means – as well as making laborious comments about how the craggy ice formations across the landscape work as a metaphor for Treadwell’s soul – Herzog never allows Grizzly Man to exist on its own terms. Even so, Herzog’s subject is too engrossing to be completely nullified by the filmmaker’s intrusions. Most of the footage is Treadwell’s, part of a vaguely conceived nature series the man dreamed of someday creating, and
the video images reveal both a pristine natural topography and a deeply disturbed psyche. Treadwell, who is revealed to have had an erratic background checkered with stints in acting and drug use, spends most of his time on camera
frantically discussing the possibility of being killed by the bears. Whatever Herzog thinks he has found – and believe me, he’ll spell that out for you – Grizzly Man registers most as a sorrowful character study. For all the contentment he claims to have experienced in the wild of
Alaska, Treadwell still comes across as a man who could only be at peace beneath the specter of death.