The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

The bear breakfast

with 11 comments

grizzly man
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.

Breakfast movie
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.

Doesn’t condemn
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

Written by Jessica

February 20, 2013 at 12:46 am

Posted in Grizzly Man

11 Responses

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  1. Wow, I saw this at the Stockholm Filmfestival several years ago. A truly magnetic movie. I loved Werner’s voice over. My friend who lived in Alaska once, she hated it. Nevertheless, in the end a haunting movie.


    February 20, 2013 at 8:00 am

    • It’s really great. I thought Into the Abyss was fantastic, but the question is if this wasn’t even better.
      I can imagine that the topic is sensitive for people living in the area, but I think Herzog takes a sensible standpoint, not romanticising the actions of the bear lover.


      February 20, 2013 at 6:23 pm

  2. This was my favorite film from 2005. Herzog, I think, was the only one who really could have made this work because, like you say, he really avoids the obvious pratfalls of this sort of story. And even while Herzog seems to form his own opinion of Treadwell he still lets the audience form their own. Just a startlingly honest portrait of a strange guy.

    And I watch movies over breakfast all the time! Movies & Coffee! Nothing better!


    February 21, 2013 at 3:31 am

    • It’s a luxury I rarely give myself. But I agree! It’s a nice way to start the day. I’m glad to hear yu’re as fond of this film as I am.


      February 23, 2013 at 6:08 pm

  3. I think I recommended it when you reviewed another Herzog movie. It’s a great movie and Herzog isn’t looking down on Timothy, it’s a neutral porter, much like into the Abyss.

    As a viewer it’s just waiting, knowing that doom is around the corner. We see him juggling with fire and each time he throws, we’re wondering if he’s gonna let it fall this time.


    February 24, 2013 at 11:57 am

    • I’m pretty sure you recommended it to me. You have such a good taste for movies. 🙂
      I was on my toes througout the movie just waiting for disaster to appear. Finally it did. So sad. And yet – there’s no doubt that he knew about the dangers and was perfectly willing to take the risk.


      February 24, 2013 at 7:32 pm

      • Thanks for the compliment. It’s sad and happy at the same time. The fact that he does what likes most and thrills in it makes it uplifting.


        February 24, 2013 at 11:44 pm

  4. Great movie one if not Herzog best.


    February 25, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    • My admiration for him as a documentary maker keeps growing.


      February 26, 2013 at 7:26 am

  5. Herzog usually doesn’t disappoint and he didn’t with this one. It was such a great documentary.


    April 4, 2013 at 11:46 am

    • It was fantastic. I loved Into the Abyss and the one about Klaus Kinski as well, but the question is if this isn’t my favourite so far.


      April 7, 2013 at 11:31 pm

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