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Werner Herzog‘s Grizzly Man tells the tale of Timothy Treadwell, self-styled grizzly expert and animal lover. Treadwell filmed himself for hundreds of hours in what he called “The Maze” in Katmai National Park in Alaska among the grizzlies that live there over 13 summers. “Befriending” them (more like they tolerated him), he kept as close a contact with them as most humans likely ever have. This is “a film of ecstasies and darkest inner turmoil” as dubbed by insane German director Werner HerzogTreadwell used the footage that he took and spoke at schools all over to help enlighten kids about the bears. This film chronicles Timothy Treadwell‘s story in Alaska with the bears to his eventual death (along with his girlfriend Amie Huguenard) at the paws and mouth of one the bears he loved so dearly. In an effort to protect them, he lost his life.

I need to hold my ground to gain their respect.

This guy was walking on thin ice the whole time he was with these bears. That he got eaten is really no surprise. The guy clearly was unhinged to begin with. I think the curator of the Alutiiq Museum Sven Haakanson got it right – “He tried to be a bear, he tried to act like a bear – for us on the island, you don’t do that, you don’t invade on their territory. For him to act like a bear the way he did…to me it was the ultimate of disrespecting the bear and what the bear represents.” Here’s an example of how Treadwell was losing it, paranoid that the park service and authorities were out to get him:

One of the most interesting parts of the film is when Herzog listens to the audio of Timothy and Amie being mauled, now in the possession of his former girlfriend Jewel Palovak. When Treadwell was attacked, he was filming but couldn’t remove the lens cap. The camera was knocked aside, but kept rolling. The actual attack was not caught on film, but the audio was. You can watch that part here. Herzog is clearly shaken by what he hears, something which is hard to imagine if you know anything about him. He tells her that she must never listen to this audio that she should destroy it.

Treadwell with one of his fox friends.

This is one of the more interesting documentaries I’ve ever seen. It’s a train wreck from start to finish, one that you certainly can’t look away from. And you get to hear Werner Herzog talk throughout since he does the narration. That’s a win no matter how you look at it. Herzog expertly interweaves the footage Treadwell shot himself with testimonials from his friends and the authorities brought in after his mauling.

This film is streaming on Netflix, Amazon (free with Prime membership) and iTunes. So sally forth and watch this incredible film.

Here’s the trailer: