Sunday, September 10, 2006

Grizzly Man

Last night a group of us gathered at our place to see Werner Herzog's documentary film Grizzly Man. The footage aside from the interviews in the film was taken by Timothy Traedwell as he lived among the Grizzly Bears in Alaska that lest few years before his death. In a way then Herzog becomes the interpreter of a visual text, which Timothy left. In a sense then Herzog as documnatarian inserts himself in ways I haven't seen in other documentaries. (Though this is the first Herzog film I have seen so this might be part of his style).

Another interesting aspect of the documentary is that in some sense it is as much about Treadwell's and his girlfriend's, Amie Huguenard's, death, mauled and eaten by a grizzly bear, as it was about his life with the bears: A very Heidegarian way of telling the story. We see Treadwell through the "lenses" of his death, from the first bit of the film we see him as one who was killed by a bear. Herzog made the decision that whatever interpretation one could have had concerning Timothy's life when alive is supreceded by his death. There is no attempt to pretend within the telling of Timothy Treadwell's story that we do not know the end of the story. Herzog is attempting to understand the Treadwell's life through the framework of his death.

From this perspective Herzog presents several interpretations of Timothy Treadwell: 1) the selfless but troubled eccentric activist who seeks to right a wrong and is more or less successful. 2) a Troubled individual who finds some salvation in his self given task of protecting grizzly bears, but who is ultimately deluded about the realities of the bears and nature (this is more or less the conclusion of Herzog the narrator) 3) the weird troubled and delusional Treadwell who is motivated as much by a desire to be on the edge and be known which leads him to a foolish occupation that ends up killing himself and another person. 4)A man who crossed boundaries which in some ways were extraordinary and admirable but ultimately not only self destructive but potentially causing harm to those he wished to protect.

At points in the movie one wonders the Treadwell's authenticity, as we see often several takes of his own narration of his film (that was never made), yet at others one sees genuine commitment and love of the animals. Ultimately what little one gets of Treadwell's own sense of what he is doing or what he thinks of animal life and the life of the bears, is somewhere between a blind romanticism about "wildlife" and seeing the bear as radically other.

For me the film brings up questions of not only our relation to "nature" but also what is a truly Christian understanding of "nature" or "creation". Treadwell even after seeing some of the harsh realities seems to persist in or even intensifies a sense that what he finds in the wilderness is preferable to civilization. Herzog in interpreting Treadwell for us concludes that "nature" is harsh dark reality from which (whatever its pitfalls) civilization protects us. Then briefly we get a perspective of the proper boundaries of mutual respect. Then there is the interpretation that is the backdrop of the story that "nature" is a resource for us to use, and animals which we have not domesticated, are not to be related to in anyway because the wild animal represents a threat in someway to our survival both individual and as a civilization.

None of these philosophies of nature seem to fit well with a Christian understanding of the world. In some sense Treadwell's understanding of himself as in some sense caretaker and protector seems to be a partial genuine articulation of what we find in the early chapters of Genesis. While Herzog's view seems to simply see the alienating and violent reality of a post fall cosmos, and the final view articulated above simply expressed humanities fallen response to a cosmos it is alienated from as much as humanity is alienated from God its creator. The Native Alaskan view (as presented in the film) seems to mediate between Herzog's and Treadwell's view, attempting to negotiate the reality of "nature" as dangerous but still retaining some sense of human responsibility for "nature". I wonder if (and Herzog in his narrative at one point hints at this by describing Treadwell's living with the bears as his own Eden) Treadwell in a sense was attempting to pick up humanities original calling in the created cosmos attempting to deny the reality of the cosmic dimensions of humanities primordial fall, and the discord and alienation that introduced into the cosmos.

In that sense Herzog's Hiedegarian interpretation of Treadwells life is partially correct from a Christian perspective as the realities of nature like our humanity are still dominated by death. But from the Christian perspective this is not the last word nor was it the first. In a sense then what is confronted in Herzog's documentary is the reality of a disordered cosmos due to Sin and Death. But because Herzog sees this reality as the only word there can be no genuine or true impulse in Treadwell's living amongst the bears though contradictorily he finds something of what it means to be human in Treadwell's story of crossing a human animal boundary.