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Film / Grizzly Man

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Grizzly Man is a 2005 American documentary film by German director Werner Herzog and featuring a musical score from Richard Thompson.

It chronicles the life and death of bear enthusiast, wildlife activist, and aspiring documentarian Timothy Treadwell. Treadwell, a self-taught bear researcher, spent thirteen summers of his life in Alaska's Katmai National Park, in close proximity to grizzly bears. Treadwell's habit of living amongst grizzly bears without taking any safety precautions bemused both professional bear researchers and Alaskan locals, but also made him a minor celebrity. Things ended horribly, however, when Treadwell's last trip among the bears ended with him and his girlfriend Amie Huguenard being eaten.

For Grizzly Man, Herzog used sequences extracted from more than 85 hours of video footage shot by Treadwell during the last five years of his life, and conducted interviews with Treadwell's family and friends, as well as bear and nature experts. Herzog also narrates, and offers his own interpretations of the events. In his narration, he depicts Treadwell as a disturbed man who may have had a death wish toward the end of his life, but also refuses to condemn him for this.


Tropes associated with Grizzly Man:

  • All Animals Are Dogs: A family of foxes is shown to allow Treadwell to feed and pet them, and the cubs often follow him around. The bears, naturally, avert this. And for all his enthusiasm, Treadwell appears to be aware of that.
  • An Aesop: Respect the nature of the wild and always listen to the authorities. No matter how much experience you have with animals, you should always take precautions around them as one mistake can change everything.
    Herzog (voiceover): 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.
  • Apocalyptic Log: Timothy's last tape. The lens cap was left on, but the audio was recorded, depicting a particularly gruesome death that one can only imagine.
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  • Badasses Wear Bandanas: Wearing a bandana was Treadwell's trademark as remembered by his ex-girlfriend.
  • Bears Are Bad News: Well, not at first.
  • Berserk Button: Treadwell gets uncharacteristically profane when a fox steals his hat, but no more than most people would get at a misbehaving pet. However, it gets worse when he goes on an unnerving rant about poachers.
  • Better as Friends: Timothy and Jewel remained close even after they broke up. There was apparently no bitterness or tension over the break-up because Jewel said that she missed both Timothy and Amie.
  • Blade-of-Grass Cut: Herzog speaks with admiration of Treadwell's talents as a filmmaker. There are several beautiful scenes captured by Treadwell's camera, like a closeup of a fox sitting in tall grass, or a bumblebee on a flower.
  • Brutal Honesty:
    • A pilot who was at the scene pulls no punches on his summation of Timothy. He points out that all things considered, Tim was more than likely delusional, possibly mentally handicapped, and, in the pilot's opinion, brought his death upon himself.
    • The director of the Alutiiq Museum is clearly uncomfortable about speaking ill of the dead, but when asked for his honest opinion on Treadwell, he is almost as blunt: Treadwell had no business interacting with the bears in the way he did, and his actions did more harm than good.
  • Cloudcuckoolander:
    • "I can feel the poop! It's warm! It just came from her butt! This was just inside of her. My girl! I'm touching it!...Everything about them is perfect!"
    • Treadwell really took this up a notch. Wildlife experts who have experience with bears are invariably astonished that he was able to get so close to them, and that his fatal mauling did not come years earlier. Some of them are of the opinion that the bears themselves were so confused by his behavior that they simply did not know what to do. There was nothing in their instinctive behavior responses on how to react to a creature that approached them openly, did not flee, did not react to their warning signals or just ignored the signals and continued to move closer, shook his fist at them, and spoke to them in a sing-song voice.
  • Cluster F-Bomb:
    • Recording at the end of one summer, Tim is attempting to sum up his experiences of the past few months, but abruptly breaks into a profane, frustrated rant about poachers, tourists, the government, and the wildlife services. It goes on for several minutes, almost none of which Herzog cuts out.
    • At one point, Treadwell drops the f-bomb 19 times in 45 seconds. Several times, Treadwell's rant is muted, once for Herzog to narrate, and another because Treadwell starts making personal attacks, which Herzog says is "a line this film will not cross," but it's clear he is laying down a carpet of profanity.
  • Conveniently an Orphan: Tim wasn't. But since 19 he pretended to be one to fake a Mysterious Past, and eventually had his name legally changed. (Treadwell, although a name in his family tree, wasn't his own.)
  • Chronic Hero Syndrome: Deconstructed; Treadwell believed he was saving the bears from humans but his actions actually endangered more bears than he ever realized because Treadwell's actions made the bears lose caution around humans. The search for Amie and Treadwell's bodies caused the deaths of two bears; park rangers had to kill the rogue grizzly to recover their remains from its stomach and to guarantee that the bear wouldn’t attack another human, and the rangers were also forced to kill another bear in self-defence during their search. Treadwell's claims of poacher activities were also proven to be false as there were no records of poacher activities in the park.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death:
    • What Tim and Amie both suffered at the jaws of the bear. It was enough to horrify no less a man than Werner Herzog just from hearing it.
    • The coroner says that Treadwell had much of his scalp torn off when the bear bit down on his head. One of the people who came to the scene afterwards found Treadwell's severed arm with his watch still on it.
  • The Cuckoolander Was Right: They do give credit to Treadwell's ability to survive for 13 years with wild bears without ever needing to defend himself from them, but it didn't make his actions any less dangerous.
  • Disaster Dominoes: Treadwell decided to go back to the Grizzly Maze on a whim after an altercation at the airport. It gets worse from there.
  • Does Not Like Guns: Treadwell made a point on never carrying a gun and said he would rather die than harm a bear. He even refused to carry bear repellent because he felt deeply disturbed after using it on a bear once. It crosses into Tear Jerker territory when you realize that a bear repellent could've very well saved his and his girlfriend's lives when a bear invaded their tent...
  • Doomed Expedition: Herzog loves this trope.
  • Don't Go in the Woods: Of bear country in Alaska during certain times of year.
  • The Farmer and the Viper: Treadwell believed he was protecting the bears from humans and insisted that he had a strong bond with the predators to a point where he refused to defend himself from them. His pacifism towards the bears led to the deaths of him and his girlfriend: As his refusal to set up security measures in his camp allowed a rogue grizzly to enter it and kill them.
  • Flipping the Bird: Treadwell does this during his Cluster F-Bomb rant targetted at the park rangers.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The Hero Dies, unfortunately (and not unpredictably).
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Early in the documentary, Treadwell is shown explaining that the most dangerous bear would be an older male who desperately needed food. Near the end, Herzog shows footage of what could have been the bear that killed him, and it was an older male that appeared to be desperately searching for food.
    • "I will die for these animals, I will die for these animals, I will die for these animals."
    • In an earlier clip, Treadwell is shown befriending the bears, trying to pet them, and recording them walking. It's all harmless and fun, set to a relaxing song and with the monologue about how much beauty he recorded in the very beginning. Then one of the bears knocks Treadwell over and the music stops. Immediately after that, Treadwell notes that these animals, "can kill, can bite, can decapitate."
    • After watching a bear fight with another, Treadwell tells the bear "I'm not duking it out for any girl like that. Not duking it out, I'll tell you right now." Many believe that in his last moments Treadwell was distracting the bear that killed him so that his girlfriend could run away.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Treadwell could apparently play with bear cubs... while their mother was watching.
  • Frying Pan of Doom: According to the coroner who listened to the infamous death tape, Treadwell's girlfriend tried to defend herself (and possibly Treadwell) by clocking the attacking bear with a frying pan but to no avail.
  • Have I Mentioned I Am Heterosexual Today?: Tim goes on a painfully awkward monologue about how he wishes he was gay, but isn't.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: The coroner who examined the remains of Tim and Amie posits that Tim tried to distract the bear so that Amie could escape. If this was the case then he was tragically unsuccessful.
  • He Who Must Not Be Seen: Amie only appears 3 times in the original 85 hours of video, has her face always covered, and is never heard.
  • Honor Before Reason: Treadwell had the intent of protecting bears from humans and adamantly refused to bring any form of protection for himself or Amie in case the bears ever decided to attack them.
  • Humans Are Bastards: The longer he was out in the wild, the more disdainful Timothy became towards his fellow humans. He had a special hatred for poachers, but also disliked the tourists and Park Service employees who encroached on 'his' animal sanctuary.
  • Hypocrite:
    • Tim routinely insulted tourists, whom he considered akin to poachers... despite the fact he came into contact with the bears for the first time as a tourist himself. He also considered that the park rangers' plane that flew over the area twice a month was harassing the bears. The park rangers point out that Treadwell's actions could actually put the bears at real risk of harm and death. By familiarizing them with human contact, he increased the likelihood that they would approach human habitation seeking food, and cause a confrontation in which animal control would have to kill them. For extra irony, the park rangers noted that there had never been a recorded incident of poaching at this national park.
    • One particularly telling scene features him waxing rhapsodic over the corpse of a fox about how sacred all life is... then swatting a fly away from the fox's eye without any sense of irony.
  • Implied Death Threat: Timothy interprets some friendly messages left for him by tourists in this manner, believing them all to be death threats.
  • Irony:
    • Treadwell was a man who devoted himself to protecting grizzly bears and personally believed that they were only hostile because of humans. After Treadwell's death, he became a symbol of how dangerous bears can be. Treadwell's actions also made the bears more dangerous and put them more at risk since he familiarised them with humans and convinced them to lose caution around them.
    • For all Treadwell's insistence on saving the lives of his beloved bears, the two bears suspected of killing him had to be put down, in part because Treadwell's remains had to be recovered from their stomachs, but also in part because bears that have killed and eaten one human are at risk for viewing future humans as prey as well.
  • It's All About Me:
    • "Don't appear on camera, I'm supposed to be alone here! It's Tim Treadwell, the kind warrior! I'm the only one here! I'm the only one protecting these bears!"
    • Also, despite the fact that he had his girlfriend with him, he rarely mentioned her in his journal entries and she only appeared three times on-camera, once while crossing a river from afar.
    • After delivering a monologue about a fox cub that was eaten by wolves, he chastises a fly for hovering on the eye of the dead cub...while he was still there.
      Stupid fly. Have some fucking respect. Don't do it while I'm here to see it.
    • He would often become angry and hostile whenever other humans (mostly nature tour groups or park rangers) intruded on 'his' grizzly sanctuary.
  • Jerkass: Arguably Tim, who created a fake backstory as an orphan, was a horrible hypocrite, and a paranoid extremist who ended up killing himself and his girlfriend. The pilot who was at the scene comes right out and calls him "retarded".
  • The Ken Burns Effect: Used repeatedly with stills. One scene features a zoom-out from a still of Treadwell as one of his old friends recounts how Treadwell, for no particular reason, pretended to be from Australia, for a long time.
  • Lemony Narrator: Werner Herzog, who alternates between praising Timothy for his ability to capture such beautiful footage, and mourning what he perceived as Timothy's poor judgement.
  • Martyr Without a Cause: The documentary questions Treadwell's sacrifice in service of the protection of the grizzly bears in Alaska. Herzog in his narration points out that the bears were already in a protected area, Katmai National Park. A biologist notes that the grizzly population in Katmai is stable and poaching is not a big problem.
  • Meet Cute: Treadwell's ex-girlfriend, Jewel Palovak, told Herzog that they met when they both got in trouble at work on the same day, him for doing a Silly Walk in front of customers and her for accidentally starting a small fire. Their relationship didn't become romantic until later, but the incident made them fast friends on the spot.
  • Motive Rant: Some of Tim's vlogs can get a bit megalomaniacal.
  • Motor Mouth: Tim had a bit of one.
  • Mountain Man: Timothy saw himself as such despite having no training whatsoever.
  • Naïve Animal Lover: The documentary shows the life of Timothy Treadwell, who was one of these in Real Life, and the horrible death that befell him and his girlfriend because Nature Is Not Nice.
  • Nature Is Not Nice: Herzog appears to be of this opinion, though he doesn't condemn Treadwell for thinking otherwise. The fact that he survived amongst wild bears for thirteen years suggests Treadwell may have had a point... although his not living to see a fourteenth rather undermines it.
    Herzog (voiceover): 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.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!:
    • The bear that killed Tim and Amie was killed in order to guarantee another human wouldn’t end up dead, along with a second bear that attacked the ranger party that was trying to recover their bodies. The interviewed experts also point out that rather than "protecting" the bears and foxes as Tim claimed, his continuous presence there just made the animals less inclined to avoid humans, and so more likely to be killed by poachers, or attack campers for their food.
    • In the park's 85-year history, there were no incidents of poaching, or even any evidence to suggest it. Just one year after his death, three bears were poached in the park (admittedly, they were in a different part of the park, but it's not impossible they were the same bears). Similarly, his and Amie's deaths were the only fatal bear attacks in the park's history.
  • No Medication for Me: Jewel explains at one point in the film that Tim was bipolar and refused to take antidepressants or anti-anxiety prescriptions — he had tried medication before, but he couldn't tolerate the disturbing "deadening effect" it had on his emotions.
  • Not Evil, Just Misunderstood:
    • Treadwell strongly believed this about grizzlies, but he turned out be only half-right: eating whatever living creatures it can catch and kill — including people — is instinctual behavior for a grizzly and not "evil" as we know it, but the fact that they can and will eat people is perfectly understood by the overwhelming majority.
    • It's worth noting that the murderous grizzly was a rogue bear, meaning it did not know Treadwell, and generally, rogue bears tend to be sociopathic among grizzlies.
  • Nothing Is Scarier:
    • Werner Herzog is filmed listening to the audio recording of Treadwell's death. There's no music for this scene, and the audio of the tape cannot be heard, but Herzog turns visibly pale while listening to it, and when he removes the headphones, his hands are trembling. Treadwell's closest friend, Jewel Palovak, is watching the whole time. After Herzog asks her to turn off the tape, he just looks at her for a moment. The viewer cannot see Herzog's face, but Palovak can... and she breaks down crying, whispering "They said it was bad." Herzog tells her, "You must never listen to this tape... If you don't destroy it, it will just be an Elephant in the Room for the rest of your life."
    • According to those who have heard it, the most disturbing part isn't the attack at all - it's hearing Amie scream as she is left alone in the woods as Tim is dragged off to be eaten, she stands there and screams, and it's made even worse as the bear then comes back...
    • Herzog does say that if we were to hear it, we'd hear — aside from the dying screams — Treadwell telling his girlfriend to run and save herself, and said girlfriend apparently trying to defend herself with a frying pan.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Timothy's opinion of the Parks Department, to the point where he believed the (sensible in hindsight) rules ordering him to move his camp every seven days and stay at least 100 yards from the animals were made specifically to screw with him and interfere with his 'mission'.
  • Off-into-the-Distance Ending: The last shot is a clip from one of Treadwell's videos, of him walking away on the edge of a stream, two bears placidly following behind.
  • Outside-Context Villain: The rogue bear that killed Treadwell and his girlfriend came out of left field. As it was unfamiliar with Treadwell and was desperate for food.
  • The Power of Love: Timothy honestly believed that it was his love for the animals that protected him throughout the years in Alaska. He is shown otherwise.
  • Retirony:
    • The couple was scheduled to depart the morning after their attack, and Amie was supposed to get a new job and possibly leave the whole living-among-grizzlies thing behind the next week.
    • There is also a short clip from The Late Show where David Letterman interviewed him and jokingly asked if Tim would eventually get eaten by a bear. (This clip is only in the theatrical version as copyright issues caused it to be replaced with another interview segment for the video and television versions.)
    • Tim, in the very first clip, gives a monologue about how dangerous bears are, but says that he won't be killed by them — then goes on to list several ways he COULD be killed. It doesn't help that he says this after the monologue to Amie...
      "I can feel death on my fingers!"
  • Senseless Sacrifice:
    • Supposedly, the goal of Timothy's expeditions and films was to show the world how gentle and harmless the bears in Alaska were, and that the image of them as violent, dangerous predators was an exaggeration. Sadly, his death proved that the opposite was true.
    • Even worse, Timothy was adamant he would never hurt a bear, even if it cost him his life. But the rangers who went to retrieve his and Amie's remains not only killed the bear that ate them, but also a second starving bear that tried to attack the recovery team later that day.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Timothy seemed to think that this was what he was doing, standing up to the law for the sake of the bears. As the other examples on this page will tell you, this ended badly.
    Timothy: Fuck the Parks Service!
  • Snuff Film: A camera recorded audio from the death of Treadwell and his girlfriend. Although Herzog listened to the tape, he offered little elaboration on it and urged its possessor to destroy it, though she ultimately did not. The executives actually wanted to use the audio in the film, but Herzog refused to allow this on the grounds of taste. In later interviews, Herzog stated that the tape is still in the possession of its owner, who has not listened to it and who keeps it locked in a safe-deposit box. It has not been and mostly likely will never be released.
  • Sound-Only Death: The recording of Tim and Amie's deaths. Subverted as we never get to hear it, which is for the best.
  • Speak Ill of the Dead:
    • One of the pilots who assisted the team of rangers in the aftermath of the tragedy speaks highly unfavorably about Treadwell; he even says that Treadwell brought his death upon himself.
    • The director of the Alutiiq Museum is clearly uncomfortable about trash-talking a dead person, especially one who died horribly. However, once he's prompted for his honest opinion on Treadwell, he admits that the activist had no business or right to interact with the bears in the way he did and his actions ultimately did more harm than good.
  • The Summation: The coroner's narration as to how exactly Timothy and Amie were killed are shown throughout the film.
  • Surfer Dude: Treadwell was one in his younger years when he moved to California.
  • Take Our Word for It: The film gives only vague descriptions of the postmortem evidence of Treadwell's death, and shows only reaction shots of Herzog listening to the audio recording of the event. It's more than sufficiently terrifying.
  • Tempting Fate: Timothy recorded many monologues explaining just how dangerous it was living in the Alaskan wilderness, and how easily the bears and other wild animals could kill him.
  • Too Dumb to Live: It's not just that Treadwell hung out with bears. As the film explains, his decision to return to his camp site after his plane ticket snafu meant staying on unusually late in the season, to a time when any bear which hadn't gone into hibernation would be hungry and desperate. Treadwell himself admits in a video that campers are supposed to put up a tent out in the open, so the bears can see where the humans are, but he chose to place his camp in the middle of a thicket. And as the film further explains, Treadwell did not use camp security devices like bear repellant spray or a portable electrified fence, the kinds of things that more traditional bear researchers use in the wild.
  • Too Spicy for Yog-Sothoth: Werner Herzog, Crazy Awesome filmmaker extraordinaire, is almost driven to tears by listening to Treadwell's final moments.
  • Tragic Keepsake:
    • Tim's parents kept many mementos from his childhood including his favourite stuffed animal which is, ironically, a teddy bear.
    • His close friend Kathleen was given his ashes.
    • Another close friend, his ex-girlfriend Jewel, has the wristwatch Tim was wearing when he died. She also has the only copy of the tape of his death, which she keeps locked away.
  • Unrequited Love Lasts Forever: Kathleen, a close friend of Tim, repeatedly says she loves Tim, and even Herzog points it out when he adds, "She says she was just a close friend," doubtfully after she mentions she has his ashes.
  • Wham Shot:
    • Herzog states at the time that distant film of Amie is the only time she appears on film. Until some of the last footage Tim shot shows her very close (and looking very uncomfortable) next to a grizzly.
    • Late in the film, Treadwell is standing by his camp, noting that anyone not experienced in doing what he's doing will die in the grizzly maze. Then a subtitle appears, stating that the site of Treadwell's death is directly behind him.
  • What the Hell Is That Accent?: Treadwell used to pretend to be Australian, and attempted to fake the accent. Whatever he ended up sounding like, it certainly wasn't Australian.
  • You Are Number 6: Treadwell had a habit of giving the bears he hung out with colorful names like Rowdy and Mr. Chocolate. But the bear that ate him and Amie didn't get a cute name (if in fact the bear that Treadwell filmed in his last videos is that one), and in any event is only called "Bear 141" after a Park Service tattoo on its lip.
  • You Do NOT Want to Know: As mentioned above, Herzog (one of the few people who has heard it) maintains that nobody should ever listen to the audio recording of Tim and Amie's deaths.


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