The best reason to watch Grizzly Man isn’t to figure out whether a guy who lives with hungry bears is crazy or not. I think we all can guess the answer to that. It’s to hear Werner Herzog, in his precise German accent, state simply, unequivocally: “I believe the natural state of the universe is chaos, hostility and murder.” By the end of the film, you may find yourself agreeing with him.
Synopsis: Warner Herzog pieces together the story of Timothy Treadwell, a self-styled bear defender who spent many seasons living with and filming grizzly bears in the wilds of Alaska, before he and his girlfriend were killed and eaten by one of the animals.
Story structure: Herzog uses a nonliner approach to tell this story. His own narration provides the structure around which the story gels. It starts after the end, with an interview with a pilot who knew Treadwell talking about how he discovered the bodies of Treadwell and his girlfriend. The the story then skips around through different parts of Treadwell’s life through a series of interviews. As the film progresses, Treadwell is shown to be deteriorating to a ranting, angry, figure who seems to have lost touch with civilization and is taking his girlfriend with him on a death wish as he lingers in bear country during a time when bears are most unable to find food before going into hibernation for the winter.
Cinematography: The footage of bears is spectacular, virtually all of it shot by Timothy Treadwell. The rest is shot by Herzog’s DP, Peter Zeitlinger. Interviews use available light. Herzog himself makes a brief appearance (the side of his face only) in the film when he sits with a friend and former lover of Treadwell, who allows him to play the tape of his death, at about halfway through the film. Herzog obviously respects Treadwell as a filmmaker, at once point complimenting him for letting the camera roll past the end of a take which allows him to capture the “unexplicable moments of cinema magic” that often happen after the action.
Editing: We learn that Treadwell left nearly 100 hours of footage behind, all of which must have been reviewed by Herzog and his editor, Joe Bini. Some of it feels repetitive. Grizzly bears are awe-inspiring creatures, but there’s only so many ways you can film them.
Music and Sound: The audio somehow sounds pretty good, so the Grizzly Man must have been using a wireless lav most of the time. There’s not a lot of memorable music in the film, except for the last song at the end, which is beautifully laid down under the pilot of the plane who is mouthing the words to the song as he flies Herzog away.