The bear breakfast
When you’re eating in a party, there are some topics that aren’t allowed into conversations. Equally there are restrictions for what you can watch on TV. People are bothered by the mentioning of certain aspects of life. Anything remotely connected to body fluids, death and decay is met by a disgusted cryout: “Stop! Please! Don’t you see we’re eating here? We’ll lose our appetite!”
As far as I’m concerned this isn’t a problem. Apart from watching people throwing up, which arguably is quite nauseating, I can talk about and think about just about anything. So when I find myself in those situations, I need to remind myself once in a while to not walk into certain territories, but to save some topics for the post-dinner conversation.
Since I spent the last weekend on my own, I grabbed the opportunity to break the unspoken rule that film watching is a night activity. I had a movie for breakfast. It was film I imagine many people would consider “incompatible with food intake” : Werner Herzog’s documentary Grizzly Man.
The main character in this film ends up getting eaten by a bear. Yes eaten, as opposed to bitten. Or maybe I should say devoured. While the camera isn’t present during the actual meal, we learn enough to get a good picture of how it all took place. The body parts are described in detail – including the one little bit that didn’t end up in the belly of the hungry bear: a wrist with a watch attached to it.
Grizzly Man gives a portray of Timothy Treadwell, who, after failing an attempt to become an actor, spent 13 years studying and living with bears in order to “protect them”. In 2003 he was killed by one of the creatures, as was his girlfriend who was with him at the moment. Through archive material and interviews with relatives and friends we get a picture of his life, his personality, his views and how his days ended.
This may sound like a snuff movie but I assure you it isn’t. Werner Herzog is neither overly sentimental, nor hungry for sensations. His voice of reason remains clear and firm throughout the film, regardless of how dark it gets. And it gets very dark, like when we see him listening to a sound recording from the bear attack, telling a friend of the killed couple that she never ever should listen to that tape.
In the middle of the tragedy, there’s also room for other perspectives. Treadwell documented his work and left a hundreds of hours of film and a few samples are included in the movie.
There are beautiful shots, amazing shots, intriguing and provocative shots. Occasionally it’s even funny, like when a Treadwell chases a fox which has run away with his hat.
Herzog never condemns or points fingers, nor does he make Treadwell into a hero and saint. But he raises questions about the nature of the relationship between man and nature, like when he reflects over Treadwell’s idealized view on animals:
And what haunts me, is that in all the faces of all the bears that Treadwell ever filmed, I discover no kinship, no understanding, no mercy. I see only the overwhelming indifference of nature. To me, there is no such thing as a secret world of the bears. And this blank stare speaks only of a half-bored interest in food. But for Timothy Treadwell, this bear was a friend, a saviour. “
Throughout the entire film I was on my edge, waiting for the moment when the bears would throw themselves over the man and start gnawing his bones in front of the camera. It never happened. But I almost forgot to finish my breakfast, since I was too caught up in the story.
This is simply an excellent documentary. I can’t recommend it enough, provided you can stomach the topic.
Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog, US 2005) My rating: 5/5