No man is an island, forcing himself to live out alone in the Earth’s wilderness with just God’s creatures and a video camera. Timothy Treadwell is no mere man, but one in whom Herzog has found himself a kindred soul. He exposits ideas of quarrelling with life and death through the lens of a never-fully-realised filmmaker’s life work, viewing it in the context of Treadwell’s death. It’s an existential mindfuck, perhaps one that Herzog feels personifies his own crisis and insecurities as an artist, a filmmaker, a humanitarian and a human. One we all face, and one we all face time and time again: we live our lives, and do nothing but live our lives until we die. It’s the one thing we all, as human beings, have in common and the thing that ultimately separates us from animals, that we can look and reflect upon our own mortality almost from the point that we can walk. That, as Treadwell might say, is “the motherfucker.”
Herzog takes a long hard look at a man’s life: a man he never met but perhaps knew better than anyone. In Treadwell I see a reflection of the filmmaker, as all great characters are, and Herzog studies all of his rough edges and hidden peculiarities as they both search for the truth and the beauty of the world. As the film goes on we get the sense of one flipping through Treadwell’s diaries, his deepest secrets shared with the world as Herzog leaves scenes unedited and uncut, allowing us to observe a man in his rawest form. Herzog treats Treadwell like Treadwell treated the bears in his films; the way Herzog uses a style akin to an Attenborough project, with the spin of someone being observed and studied and admired as much as the animals. The same way he uses Treadwell’s footage to reflect on man’s relation to nature and Treadwell’s own relation to sanity. Both these men search for meaning in their own works, the bittersweet fact of Treadwell’s vision being distorted into something about him and not about the bears has a certain irony to it that rings scarily true.
Herzog paints a picture of a lonely man, one struggling to fit into the world the way he was. Herzog attempts to state that no man is an island, but Timothy Treadwell is, as we know, no mere man. The motherfucker, indeed.
Written by Bryson Edward Howe