Wolf Song of Alaska News

Treadwell was Addicted to Danger

Tom Brennan / Voice of the Times / Anchorage Daily News / March 2, 2006


I recently saw the much-hyped and criticized 2005 movie "Grizzly Man" and the movie about the making of the movie. Both are running a lot lately on the Discovery Channel.

I was prepared to hate Timothy Treadwell, the California man who lived among the bears of Katmai National Park for 13 summers and was finally killed by one in 2003.

Surprisingly, I didn't. He was actually a fairly likable guy, unlike many of the pundits who talked about him for the movie-about-the-movie. Some of them came across as really obnoxious, but Treadwell himself wasn't all that bad.

He was obviously an egotist who carried a comb and mirror in every pocket. But he was also a performer who was constantly on camera, so the apparent narcissism was no surprise.

But I had assumed he was convinced that the grizzlies returned his love and would give him safe passage among them, that he considered himself the bear whisperer who was immune from harm. In fact, he said many times to the camera that any of the bears could turn on him at any time. He played that up constantly, both to keep the audience interested and to demonstrate just how brave he was.

He not only considered his death from bear attack possible; he seemed certain that it would happen eventually and his on-camera performances were offered as evidence that he was unafraid.

Treadwell reminded me of the goofy buddy who is addicted to danger and keeps pushing the edge of the envelope, increasing his risk until he finally makes a math error and jumps off a 400-foot bridge strapped to a 410-foot bungee cord.

The bear that killed Tim and his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard, was a rogue that was in the mood to kill, for unknown reasons. But Treadwell seemed to understand that rogues existed and that the odds were he would encounter one someday.

Bears are not always inclined to kill humans, though they don't hesitate to do so when the mood strikes them. Often that may be for a variety of reasons ranging from an injury to a toothache to a lousy salmon run or perhaps the bruin is just having a bad day. Cautious people avoid close encounters with grizzly bears for just that reason, but Treadwell was anything but a cautious man.

The mystery in the drama is Huguenard. She gets relatively little attention and her motives are largely unexplored. But the question is not why she would get drawn into such a situation if she was attracted to danger too, but why Treadwell would put her at such risk if he was convinced that a bear would kill him some day.

My theory, for what it's worth, is that he assumed it would happen when he was approaching the animals for the camera. He wanted Amie to witness his death when it came and his intention was that she live to testify to his bravery. But the grizzly jumped them both in their camp. The sounds of their struggle and her screaming were recorded by his ever-present camera, but the moviemaker decided the sounds were too gruesome for the public. Good decision.

The parts of the movie that were hardest to take were Treadwell's rhapsodizing about bear poop left by one of his favorites, one that he gave a cuddly name.

And some parts of the movie just didn't ring true. In one scene a Bush pilot is walking through the trees talking about the bear attacks and their aftermath. It's not what he says that's so troublesome; it's the fact that the moviemaker decided to add loud bug-buzzing sound effects and computer-generated bugs swarming in front of the camera.

There is a remote possibility that the sound effects and the bugs were real, but if that's true the pilot doing the talking must have been wearing an industrial-strength bug repellent. He also seems remarkably unaware of the bugs' presence.

Anybody who spends time in the Bush during bug season knows they can be a huge nuisance and understands the theory, at least, of being eaten alive by bugs.

But don't tell me that anybody - no matter how drenched in Deet - can walk among noisily swarming bugs without noticing they are there. The fact that the pilot doesn't seem to notice them and take a few swats at them suggests that they weren't really there but were added in the studio.

Tim Treadwell was a strange man who died a horrible death and there has been tremendous overstatement among his critics. One of the worst said on film that the man deserved what he got.

Nobody deserves to die by being rendered apart by a vicious bear. Treadwell courted such a death and eventually it came. Too bad he had to take Amie Huguenard with him. I doubt that was his intent.

Tom Brennan is an editor of The Anchorage Times.

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