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The 36 Dramatic Situations: Grizzly Man (2005) and Madness

How ‘Grizzly Man’ exemplifies Madness, one of the 36 Dramatic Situations.
By  · Published on September 8th, 2010

This article is part of our 36 Dramatic Situations series.

For 36 days straight, we’ll be exploring the famous 36 Dramatic Situations by presenting a film that exemplifies each one. From family killing family to prisoners in need of asylum, we brush off the 19th-century list in order to remember that it’s still incredibly relevant today.

Whether you’re seeking a degree in Literature, love movies, or just love seeing things explode, our feature should have something for everyone. If it doesn’t, please don’t try and convince us that living amongst grizzly bears for months is a safe activity.

Part 31 of the 36-part series takes a look at “Madness” with Grizzly Man.

The Synopsis

The harrowing documenting and incorporation of found footage of infamous grizzly bear activist Timothy Treadwell’s time spent living amongst grizzly bears in Alaska for many months over the course of many years; ultimately concluding with the incident of both Treadwell and his girlfriend, who accompanied him for his final two summer expeditions, being mauled to death at the paws of the beast Treadwell spent his adult life trying to protect.

The Situation

“Madness” – A simple scenario consisting of one who has gone insane and a victim of the madman’s actions. The victim can certainly be the madman him/herself being the cause of their own misfortune or undoing, or as is tragically common (because of the undeniable powerful effect) it tends to be a kinsmen or loved one of the madman. The reasons for succumbing to madness can vary as often as the consequences and the victim ranging from obsession to fear, and everything in between and beyond.

The tragedy of Treadwell’s story isn’t that his eagerness and self-absorbed sensibilities brought upon his own somewhat ironic death (maybe not as ironic as it is obvious), but that his girlfriend who was admittedly much less comfortable around bears meets the same end in the same horrifying way.

The Movie

Back in 2004–2005 this film was one of the most talked about pictures to come out of the numerous film festivals it played, the larger being Sundance where it was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize and Toronto where it won for Best Documentary feature. Treadwell’s tale is second only to his extreme persona, all of which we get an uninhibited peek into as a good portion of the film is footage filmed by Treadwell himself during his stay in Alaska with the bears.

During that time we get a glimpse of the kind of individual Treadwell became after he left for college, at which point his parents commented he went from being a typical teenager to telling people he was a British orphan born in Australia. After taking a trip to Alaska to view the lives of bears in the wild he fell in love, which thus began his deteriorative connection to human civilization as he grew more fond of living in nature and becoming an activist. To categorize this as madness may seem a little judgmental and extreme, but again, this is a man who went from supposed normalcy to claiming he was a British orphan who was as emotionally astonished by bear droppings as a certain YouTube person who captured two full rainbows.

Werner Herzog may be the most diverse filmmaker of his generation – he goes in and out of narrative projects and documentary filmmaking seamlessly and knows how to construct both with the skill of a director well-versed in the intricacies of documenting life and shooting for drama. Grizzly Man is not only one of Herzog’s best documentaries (of which he excels more consistently), it may be his most accomplished film. Because of the nature of the subject, and to the good fortune of Herzog that so much footage was captured by Treadwell, it’s a construction of one of the most interestingly bothered personalities to ever be put in front of the camera.

Bonus Examples: Apocalypse Now, Bug, Spider, Moby Dick

Check out our entire series of 36 Dramatic Situations, 36 Movies.

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