Monday, March 13, 2006

That pesky animal/human divide

Through the magic of Netflix I am once again seeing some films in which the animals do not talk, crack jokes, or sing. One that is relevant to the discussions of medieval animals on this blog is Grizzly Man, a documentary by Werner Herzog. The film examines the life of Timothy Treadwell, a man who used bears as fantasy bodies through which to create an alternative universe where he could co-exist with the bears he loved -- and in which he was (he thought) accepted and at peace. Somehow he managed to live among the grizzlies of Alaska for several months of each year for more than a decade. I will give nothing of the film away by also saying that eventually a bear devoured him.

The film winds up being as much about Herzog as Treadwell, with both men using the bears to detail vying portraits of what Nature is and how Nature works (for Herzog it is sometimes indifferent, sometimes cruel, and in one key scene both hungry and bored; for Treadwell it is a space of primal union and unmediated beauty). Sometimes heavy-handed, sometimes in danger of turning its subject into a freak show, but all in all surprising in the way it reads "found" footage and a horrible demise, this was a provocative piece of art. It also has a queer undercurrent on sexuality that I'm still trying to figure out.

1 comment:

Karl Steel said...

It also has a queer undercurrent on sexuality that I'm still trying to figure out

Well, Treadwell refashions himself as a kind of wilderness elf, although he himself believes he's being hypermasculine (e.g., his initial reference to himself as a 'ninja'): but he's missing all the appropriate cues. And then there's the whole 'crush on a bear' thing....there's definitely something unnerving about both gender and the erotic in this.

JJC, I think you can probably get all of these through your movie distribution service, but I'd suggest Herzog's documentary about his friendship with Klaus Kinski (My Best Fiend) and, especially for Herzog in nature bullying his way into his documentary, the lovely White Diamond. The obvious suggestion is Aguirre, Wrath of God, which I wish I could show to my students next week while I teach Heart of Darkness.