Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Grizzly Man


I can’t really review this as a film, because I am too emotionally tied up in the subject of it and I didn’t watch it all. So discount my opinion by that factor.

Did you ever meet someone who, from the first instant, you just knew you hated? Despised, loathed, abhorred everything about him? Timothy “Treadwell” is such a man for me. Or was, because he got eaten by a bear. I put his last name in quotes because it is one of the many lies he told about himself. Two minutes—two minutes!—into this film, I had him pegged as one of the most narcissistic, egotistic, self-aggrandizing and self-dramatizing, ecologically ignorant, anthropomorphizing, Steve Irwin-channeling assholes it has ever been my sorry lot to spend two minutes with.

He was also one of the luckiest assholes on the planet … up until the bear ate him. (I like the sound of that so much I have to keep writing it: The bear ate him! The bear ate him! The bear ate him! Hurray for bears!) (Sorry to report that the bear ate his unfortunate girlfriend, too.) For 13 summers he begged them to eat him. He’d set up his camera and go out in front of it with the bears, spouting bullshit about how they were his friends, how he was interacting with them, how he was protecting them (even though no one was hunting or poaching the bears in the national park where he was frolicking with nature). How he was performing a valuable service studying bear behavior, as if he were an ursine Jane Goodall or Dian Fossey. Hey, you can study bears with a long lens; you won’t bother them and they won’t bother you. But no, our Tim had to get his hand into all his shots, touching the bears, romping with them, facing them off, and deluding himself into thinking he was dominating these animals rather than just failing to interest them as food.
The adult Alaskan grizzly bear is the most fearsome land animal on the planet, its only real competition being the polar bear. Lions and tigers? Fuhgeddaboudit! An angry griz would tear them apart like stuffed toys. But normally they don’t mess with people. Tim T and his girlfriend were the first, and so far only, people ever killed by bears in Katmai National Park, which is vast and has a lot of bears in it. People, with proper care, are able to get in quite close to film their behavior or simply enjoy looking at them without being harmed or even challenged very often.

Tim finally got his wish with an old, hungry, desperate bear, trying to fatten up for the winter during a season of poor salmon runs. Suddenly, Tim looked a lot more interesting to the bear! All that was left of him after the bear ate him (The bear at him! The bear ate him!) was an arm, a head and a bit of backbone … and a lot of well-chewed stuff taken out of the bear’s stomach after they shot it. Too bad about that. I hope his last meal was enjoyable.

This man, and assholes like Steve Irwin, represent the worst side of the environmental movement, because they are such parodies of real wildlife experts. I mean, tree-huggers are easy enough to laugh at. How much more risible is a bear-hugger? Tim T. trespassed on bear territory. He was cited by park rangers for storing his food in his tent. Idiot! Even I, no fan of wilderness, know better than that. He brought an illegal generator into the park, presumably to re-charge his VCR batteries.

This is probably a pretty good movie, if you can hold out until the end. I couldn’t, I bailed out at the 40-minute mark. Lee, who watched it all, says it’s pretty good. It’s by Werner Herzog, and the main reason for its existence is all the footage Tim T. shot, and the existence of a 6-minute videotape, sound but no picture because the lens cap was on, of him and his girlfriend being eaten alive. This sound is not played in the film, but Herzog listens to it, and says it should be destroyed. I am ambivalent about that. I guess I have to agree that it shouldn’t be part of the movie, if only because it invades the privacy of the dead girlfriend and her grieving family (who would probably like to resurrect Tim T. just so they could butcher him and feed him to the bears again). But I’d like to have heard it. Not because I hate the man (though I do), not because I would expect to get any pleasure out of it. I’d expect it to be pretty harrowing. But I’m a big boy, I can take it, I’ve watched a video of a man getting his head cut off by degenerate, monstrous Arabs, listened to his screams, which were awful until his trachea was severed. I guess I’m just curious. I’m a writer, I want to know what things are like.

Before he began bothering bears, Tim T. was an actor. He auditioned for a part on “Cheers,” and came in second to Woody Harrelson. Lee, who watched the whole thing, said it looked like this bear stuff had taken the place of acting in his life. He was the star (not the bears, it was always about me, me, me!), the director, the producer, the cameraman, the editor, the best boy, the gaffer, and the key grip. I thought about it, and said I figured he was also the caterer. For the bear. The bear ate him!