Wednesday, March 15, 2006
So I just saw the DVD of "Grizzly Man," the Werner Herzog documentary about a man, Timothy Treadwell, who had lived amongst the b'ars every summer for thirteen years. Then, one fine day, one of them up and et him. The movie contains a goodly amount of Treadwell's own film footage as well as post-mortem interviews with those who knew him.
The story is, I think, viewed as a tragedy of sorts, at least by some of the reviewers and probably by the director: one man's obsessive hubris leading to the inevitable fall. The crossing of boundaries man was not meant to cross: nature, red in tooth and claw, gets you in the end. Or at any rate, it got Treadwell. Or, at any rate, the bear part of it, got him.
And all of that was there, certainly. I gotta say, though, that by the end of it I was left with two thoughts that overshadowed all other impressions:
1) Go, bears!
2) GodDAM but the closet leads to some weird-ass places. And that ain't Narnia, neither.
No, okay, one shouldn't make these cynical, stereotyping assumptions. Just because the guy came off like Richard Simmons to the tenth power doing "Wild Kingdom" doesn't mean anything about his sexuality, of course. (or Simmons' either, for that matter; I seem to recall he's a straight fella himself, on the record). In fact, Treadwell goes out of his way to talk about how hard it is for him, with the ladies; and how it's so much easier for gay folks:
"You know, it's just Bing! Bing! Bing! - gay guys, no problem. They go to restrooms and truck stops and perform sex, it's like so easy for them and stuff."
He goes on to say that he always wished he were gay, Treadwell did, but, sigh, it just wasn't meant to be: he's straight straight straight, dammit. He loves the ladies. But they don't love him. That same sad song so familiar to all the other straight dudes out there. Good thing he has his animal friends, for consolation. Specifically, big, muscular, hairy, do-what-comes-nat'rally...bears. Who don't even need a restroom or a truck stop, let alone anyone's permission, to do their thing, be it sex or rasslin' or just plain takin' a dump. It's, like, so easy for them, and stuff. Bears, that is.
At any rate it didn't seem like he had trouble attracting women to share his life with him, Treadwell; in fact he had one girlfriend, Annie Huguenard, who shared his death. Did she, in fact, die for him? Well, she certainly died with him, which is pretty damn intimate, I'd say. No one seemed to know much about her, in the film; the speculation was that she could have made a run for it at the last, but didn't, which implies a heroism of sorts, I suppose. Personally I have no idea how I'd react if I were stuck in the middle of fucking nowhere with an extra-manic Richard Simmons and a shitload of bears, let alone what I'd do when one of the bears finally cashed in that all-you-can-eat-buffet coupon on my companion. I imagine I'd be too busy crapping myself and screaming to figure out an escape, but who the hell knows?
The real question, of course, is why on God's green earth does a nominally straight woman take up with Richard Simmons Gone Wild in the first place? According to the people who knew Huguenard, she was frightened of the bears, so it wasn't like she was completely at one with him in his amateur naturalist enthusiasm (and/or his insanity, depending on one's point of view and/or one's degree of charitability toward Treadwell).
Personally, I blame the patriarchy, (cough) for all of it. Socialization of women to take care of everyone but themselves, to play nice and not say "You want me to camp out where?! Screw you guys, I'm goin' home." Socialization of men so that it seems more acceptable, easier, somehow, to be a platonic bear-lover and eccentric martyr than to just do one's thing--in truck stops, or restrooms, or anyfuckingwhere but a protected campground full of projections of idealized love in the form of wild animals (who, as the director notes, frankly don't seem to see Treadwell as anything but a potential snack, ever, despite Treadwell's cutesy nicknames and protestations of deep psychic bonding with the critters).
And finally, there's the whole romanticization of innocence business, which I think is at the heart of Treadwell's trip. You know: humans are corrupt or too complicated or sinful, or something, so clearly the solution is to reject one's ties with the greater body of humanity. Turn away altogether, put all of one's needs onto Nature (with a capital N). Or--now extrapolating to others I think have taken versions of this trip, and perhaps for similar reasons--Michael Jackson, say--children. Or perhaps even aliens: witness the Heaven's Gate people, or at least their leader, Marshall Applewhite. Applewhite the idealist, Applewhite the gentle eccentric, Applewhite the guru, who was charismatic enough to find a number of other pure, shining, selfless souls to merge and go all the way to the Light with him. Would Huguenard have eaten the Nembutal-laced pudding if Treadwell had asked her, I wonder? At least it would've been a less painful way to go than being mauled and eaten alive.
Cases like these guys are fascinating because they take certain threads in the cultural zeitgeist to their logical, if extreme, ending. At any rate it's not at all hard to draw from the ah "traditional values" template, current American version(s), and conclude that there's something fundamentally wrong with us mere mortals. Something that needs fixing, or running away from. Maybe even killing.
And yet, for all of Treadwell's attempts to merge with the "animals," it's not at all clear that it ever occurs to him that humans are animals, too. And, by extension, that he, too, is already an animal, no more or less than the rest of us--and that that might actually be O.K.
By the way, this Slate review of the film is really good, and I agree with Edelstein's take, on the whole. (Corky St. Clair, yes! even more than Simmons)