September 14, 2005

"Grizzly Man"

I finally took the family to see the documentary that all the culturati are playing up as superior to "March of the Penguins." It's not, but it's amusing. It's the story of Timothy Treadwell, a manic-depressive failed TV actor who became an alcoholic after losing out to Woody Harrelson for the dumb bartender role on "Cheers." He started camping in grizzly bear country in Alaska each summer. Unlike the black bears of the Lower 48, who aren't terribly dangerous unless provoked, the huge brown bears of Alaska are erratic and can be lethal on a whim. Nobody in his right mind spends a lot of time in grizzly country without a rifle by his side.

Treadwell wasn't particularly sane, so he spent 13 unarmed summers making friends with the grizzlies, getting to the point where he could touch some of his old acquaintances on the nose. He also made friends with a family of foxes, who'd follow him around like dogs. The animals apparently found him harmless. His communing with the brutes helped him get off alcohol and drugs.

He shot 100 hours of video, but apparently he wasn't all that interested in traditional nature documentary footage. Most of the footage, at least as shown in the movie, consisted of him standing in front of a camera on a tripod, talking about himself and his grandiose psychodramas, with grizzlies as background. Finally, he stayed an extra week one fall, after all the bears he knew had gone into hibernations, and he and his girlfriend were devoured by a newcomer, an old and extremely hungry bear.

It's a pretty silly story, and isn't helped by German director Werner Herzog's narration, which is in a sort of Schopenhauer-for-Sophomores vein: "But ze uniwerse is actually cold und cruel, und, zus, he vas eaden by a bear." (Or words to that effect. It's weird how all Germans these days strike us as sounding exactly like Ah-nold.)

Personally, though, I can relate to Treadwell: I'd like to make friends with bears and foxes, too. Once in Alaska, I spent 45 minutes stalking a female caribou just to see how close I could get. By moving slowly and reassuringly from the upwind side, I got to within five feet of the 200-pound beast. It was quite exhilarating. I haven't done much hunting, but I imagine the thrill is tied into our heritage as hunters.

Rated R for bad language.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

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