I watched Grizzly Man the other night. It really is an interesting tale, of a man with a lot of issues who can’t find peace in human society or within himself, so he pretends to be a “friend” of grizzly bears, and even to be a grizzly bear himself. He records nature, the bears and other animals, as well as uses the camera to explore himself, relentlessy. His use of the camera is of course first and foremost an extension of a tool of the naturalist, recording and cataloging the behaviors of his subjects. But he himself becomes a subject, as he vents, raves, and discusses his reasons for being with the grizzlies, posing as a hero, a protector of the bears.
Timothy Treadwell obviously had a lot of issues. But I was just thinking of the similarity of his endeavor to that of any creator or artist–to go into the “wilderness,” to find material in extreme solitude, even while almost narcissistically recording and play-acting to an invisible audience. I do the same with this very blog. To create a new version of myself outside of the bounds of my society.
I wouldn’t want to compare myself any further to Treadwell, as he was obviously pretty bonkers, but I wanted to try to find a way of understanding him rather than making fun of him. His relationships with animals and the grizzly bears were on the level of a child–pretending to understand the animals, to be one himself, and idealistically believing that they are nobler than humans. And in this idealistic and child-like way, he indeed came closer to the grizzlies than anyone probably in human history, just as he claims on his own footage. Although of course the question is raised in the film: perhaps grizzlies should simply be respected and left at a distance, rather than tried to be related to ourselves. That Timothy lived alongside grizzlies as long as he did attests not only to his craziness, but also to his ability to really understand them quite accurately.
It is unfortunate that Treadwell couldn’t put this ability for intelligent empathy to use on himself or on his society. I was thinking that instead of going into the wilderness and becoming one with the grizzlies, how much more interesting of an endeavor might it have been for him to take his camera and camp out downtown with the homeless, and interview them and record their lives and show his footage to children in classrooms as he did with grizzlies–and thus to humanize and make relatable the lives of the homeless to that of ordinary people.
By that, I’m not saying that I don’t think grizzlies are important nor deserving of understanding. But Timothy Treadwell’s reasons for going to the grizzlies were not simply because he loved bears–he was attempting to escape himself, to escape his society, to escape humanity, as it were. And it’s fairly apparent from his footage that he does none of this. All of his problems he takes with him. He uses the bears to give his life meaning, he uses their danger and wildness to feel alive. And so eventually, they take his life. Because not bears, not cameras, not the wilderness can save him from himself. The greatest of battles is within. When you can truly understand yourself, then there is no need to become a grizzly bear.