On new years day, I traditionally go to see a movie to recover from my hangover. Yesterday it was Grizzly Man by Werner Herzog. What a great movie! It’s a tale about Timothy Treadwell, who lived closely among grizzly bears in Alaska for 13 years, and ends up being eaten by one. It’s a basically a tragical story about a guy who tries to escape from the chaotic world outside of him and tries to become a better self. Treadwell tries to take his destiny into his own hands, but at the same time becomes more and more trapped in his fixed own world that in the end dictates him and destroys him. Timothy Treadwell is a ‘dead man’: he has already partly left this world to live in a world that only exists in his own phantasy: a beautiful, loving, pure, uncorrupted natural world. Treadwell’s time among the bears of Alaska was a kind of ‘liminoid phase’ (Victor Turner) between regular life and a next stage, in this case very literally: death.
The film has many aspects that have to do with identity, visible in the may paradoxes that were evident in Timothy Treadwell:
– Treadwell played with his own image: he developed a story about himself as being from Australia; he was performing outrage & anger in one of the last scenes against the park rangers (the forces that be in the human world), yet could easily switch back to being calm in the next second.
– Treadwell wasn’t always very consequent in his self-construction, e.g. when claiming that he was ‘the only person out there’, while it appeared that he was in company of a woman at least some of the time, which he tried to hide from public eye (camera).
– On the one hand, Treadwell was very vain, constantly fussing about his hair and doing stuff with bandana’s trying to conceal his receding hairline. On the other hand, he didn’t give much about material goods and status.
– He constantly stressed how dangerous it was among the bears, yet when something happened that didn’t coincide with his romantic view of noble, harmonious nature, he couldn’t accept it, as when a young bear got killed and eaten by starving elder bears.
– Treadwell anthropomorphised the animals, ascribing them human behaviour and characteristics.
– Treadwell’s work wasn’t about the bears as much as about himself becoming a new being: he confessed a few times in front of the camera about his troubled youth and told how he had overcome his problems. He shot many sequences of ‘action-takes’ that could later possible be used in a dramatised film about his life.
– Treadwell’s attempt to carve out a life of his own, be unique in what he does (“nobody can do this”), celebration of individualism, escapism from institutional structures, is a very modern thing, typically of this age.
Go see this film!!