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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this is in no way a kids' documentary, even though it features frequent images of grizzly bears and foxes. The film frankly considers the deaths of Treadwell and his girlfriend, attacked by a bear under apparently harrowing conditions. The film includes several images of bears menacing or fighting with one another, as well as some "confessional" moments by Treadwell that might disturb younger viewers (he's very emotional, uses frequent foul language, and behaves in a paranoid manner). Throughout the film, Herzog argues with Treadwell about "nature" -- where Treadwell respects the wildness of "his" bears, he also see them as noble, even friendly creatures; by contrast, Herzog sees them as fierce, brutal creatures.
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What's the story?
Taking the life and death of bear activist Timothy Treadwell as its point of departure, GRIZZLY MAN is less a documentary than a meditation on human limits and desires. Treadwell and girlfriend Amie Huguenard were killed by a bear in October 2003. About half the imagery in Grizzly Man is Treadwell's own (the other half is Herzog's interviews with his subject's family, friends, and associates, as well as the medical examiner who dealt with the bodies). For the last five years of his life, Treadwell videotaped over 100 hours of "his" bears, as well as his own confessions, complaints, and sometimes ranting commentaries. During periodic returns to civilization, he campaigned for the bears' protection, visiting classrooms and Letterman, co-founding the foundation Grizzly People and co-writing Among Grizzlies with Jewel Palovak.
Is it any good?
This smart, provocative film centers on an "argument" between filmmaker Werner Herzog and his subject. Where Treadwell calls the bears his "friends," and names them ("Mr. Chocolate," "Sergeant Brown," "Wendy"), Herzog calls the animals wild beasts. Some interviewees see Treadwell as "crossing a line" he should have left alone. Others see him as a man who lost his way ("He meant well, but to me, he was acting like he dealing with people in bear costumes"). According to Herzog's narration, Treadwell "stylized himself as Prince Valiant, fighting the bad guys." These opponents were ambiguous and legion, including poachers, other campers, park authorities, even Treadwell's own demons. A onetime waiter, failed actor, and recovering alcoholic, he sought a cause, a community in which he could feel comfortable and sympathetically reflected.
In the bears, the film proposes, Treadwell found companionship and refuge, a way to escape or maybe remake himself. To achieve this end, he rejected his unhappy past, spent more and more time in the parks, "methodically" taping over scenes he saw as "mistakes," perfecting the image he wanted to present, whether to himself or some future audience is not clear. "It is a simpler world," Herzog remarks of Treadwell's seeming sanctuary, "but it is a harsh, brutal world. We can't live in that world because we're very different from them."
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about this movie might discuss the argument at its center, concerning Treadwell's devotion to bears. Did he cross a line by thinking bears would respect or even love him as he respected and loved them? How do the various interviewees offer different perspectives of the same story, describing Treadwell as tragic, pathetic, misguided, or courageous? How do you feel about Treadwell's decision to devote his life to the bears? What do you think about his girlfriend Amie's notable absence from the movie's visual track?
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