For 13 years, Timothy Treadwell spent his summers on the Alaskan Peninsula, living among wild bears and, for the last five years, videotaping his life there. His winters were spent touring elementary schools and making television appearances, in an effort to educate people about the plight of the animals he loved. This continued until October 5, 2003, when Treadwell and his girlfriend were attacked and killed by a bear.
Using Treadwell’s footage as well as interviews with his friends, family, and local authorities, director Werner Herzog crafts a fascinating documentary around his favorite themes: obsession, madness, and man’s place in nature. Herzog, who has an active role in the film, empathizes with Treadwell, even though their worldviews are on opposite ends of the spectrum.
Addressing the camera, Treadwell, who had no formal training with animals, saw himself as a “kind warrior” who was there to protect the bears from poachers, developers, and others who would do them harm. But others saw him as a deluded kook, suffering at least from a naiveté about his role in the bears’ lives. (When Treadwell waxes poetic about a fresh pile of bear dung, it’s hard to disagree with them).