MovieChat Forums > Wheel of Time (2003) Discussion > Wheel of Time + Grizzly Man

Wheel of Time + Grizzly Man

(Sorry for the poor writing, I am very tired).

I just got back from this beautiful, brilliant film. Herzog's restrain was shocking and poignant. I also recently saw his equally brilliant "Grizzly Man"; especially fascinating to me was his virtually polar examination of seemingly identical human traits in the two films. Both films exhibit unflinching human passion, devotion, and a crusading dedication to a cause identified as greater than one's self. In a sense they are about quite different things, yes, but Herzog (certainly not a Buddhist, nor a grizzly conservationist) seems primarly concerned with examining how his subjects (whether these Buddhist pilgrims, or Timothy Treadwell) respond to the nakedness of their passions. In "Wheel of Time" he exhibits a restrained admiration and near envy for these devotees, portraying their devotion as beatific, ultimately suggesting the inherent good of the human soul (or so it seemed to me). His examination of Treadwell is far more cynical; the world is chaotic, Herzog explicitly says, and when faced with it Treadwell fell victim and was ultimately consumed (no pun intended) by it, becoming virtually insane himself. (The film struck me almost as a true-to-life "Heart of Darkness").
It is fascinating that Herzog made both films so close to each other; on the surface, they seem to be arguing two wholly different hypotheses. After further deliberation, however, it seems Herzog's point: an investigation into the extremes that humans can go, a greater understanding of our own humanity. To hear both films narrated in his distinct voice is a wonderful, dizzying experience; to watch them together adds resonance and a greater clarity to both.


Phantomg6 - I have a very strong suspicion that we both watch films at the JBFC.

I, too, just saw the two films this week, but I come away with a different perspective. My first impressions of "Wheel of Time," uninfluenced by any source, were that Herzog had taken raw footage but didn't put any cohesive, personal stamp on it. We saw individual people, crowds, rituals, mountains, prostrations. But none of the comments or descriptions did anything to show us the inner motivations, the spiritual background and philosophy of these people. Praying for good luck or rubbing against a lucky column was juxtaposed against untranslated debates; how does a primitive supplication integrate with abstract ideas about nothingness and a philosophy of living?

I know a little something about Buddhism and other eastern religious. This film did not give us a sense of the religion's teachings about ultimate reality. As inkblot185 in the comments section says, it was more an anthropology/ethnic study than a living, vital, translatable philosophy made understandable. This Westerner's visual impression: an ancient rock concert, still going strong.

What are we really feeling when we watch this film? Amazement that a human could prostrate himself a thousand miles for three years? Ultimately it meant nothing to me, a Ripley's believe-it-or-not moment. Not the obviously transcendent experience it was for the man who did it, or so Herzog implies. His questions make him appear clueless. What do we learn about this religion from this film and how does it relate to our own personal lives? Pictures, but no ideas. I'll give one possible explanation. Herzog was not that interested in this project. He did it as a favor to the Dalai Lama. Or maybe he didn't find the cinematic equivalent to the inner transformations that preceed and then motivate the rituals. He might have thought the pictures and a few explanations would do it.

Now, "Grizzly Man," on the other hand, was pure Herzog. I refer you to Michael Atkinson's review at the Village Voice site. Herzog was able to put all the contradictions of Treadwell, Herzog's own views, the grandeur of Alaska, and the various other personalities and views into a coherent amalgam. He gave a complex and multifaceted view of the man and was able to capture the ultimate reality of his world and achievement. Super-excellent film quality, editing and insightful vision.

(As a side note, at the discussion after last night's film we found out that the bears are not Grizzlies, but Kodiak bears. Kodiaks live on the island filmed, whereas Grizzlies are smaller and live on the continent).



Thanks for your response and well-articulated comments, I actually was under the impression that this post would never be responded to. And indeed you are correct, I saw both films at JBFC and go as often as possible (although the day after seeing "Wheel of Time" I had to go back to college in Buffalo, where I am now).
To briefly respond (I see no point in trying to 'convert' you to my opinion, in fact your argument seems clearly deduced from a lot of consideration), my only defense would be that I more or less agree with your conclusions about "Wheel of Time," but whereas the film didn't do enough for you, it was in its restraint that I admired it. I too know quite a bit about Buddhism, have always been fascinated with the religion, and didn't feel the need to have the particularities of the ritual explained to me. This is certainly an esoteric film, even for Herzog's audience, and those without somewhat of an interest or knowledge in Buddhism may have felt left behind. However it was enough, in my viewing experience, to simply sit amongst and watch these devout people up close; the feeling I left with was one of ethereal harmony, as though the images transcended the screen and imprinted themselves within me. I subscribe to National Geographic and anthropologic documentary is pretty much the only television I watch, but I have never seen anything that made me feel subjectively the way Herzog's film did. (Ironically, and somewhat amusingly, your comment about Herzog depicting an "ancient rock concert" makes me think of the classic documentary "Woodstock," another one of my favorite documentaries. More or less, this film is nothing more than a straight on representation of the concert, yet it remains a timeless masterpiece and important piece of American cultural history. Is it not enough for Herzog to do the equivalent for this religious pilgrimage?)
Truthfully, the idea that Herzog did the film as a favor to the Dalai Lama strikes me as a bit silly, but thats probably because I like my idea about the connectective polarity of the two films better (which, ultimatley, was the only reason I posted, to see if anyone who had seen both films might agree or disagree). Thank you for responding, I'm interested to see what else you might think. Keep going to the JBFC!


Phantom - You make nice analogies between both films in your posts. And you describe well what is is going on in "Wheel of Time." I agree that everyone is on the same wavelength --Herzog, you, me. In fact, while I was taking a walk yesterday it occured to me that Herzog leads us not just into the heart of Treadwell but to luminescent points of intellectual insight and spirituality in "Grizzly"--not just by vacariously watching others achieving this. The difference is the multiple dimensions used in "Grizzly:" intellectual --ecological and world-embracing; emotional--breaking through conventions, requiring change, discomfort and pain; the psychological pain of breaking away from stultifying social boundaries and modern human existence, Herzog's visual and structural pacing that leads us this way.

One could see throughout "Grizzly" that Treadwell was always heading in this direction. His so-called insanity is what insanity always is --extreme deviance and separation from society. He was no more insane than a sequestered religous is or anyone singlemindedly devoted to one cause to the exclusion of all else --at possible damage to himself and others. People like Treadwell or the man who prostrated himself 1,000 miles to get to the Buddhist festival are a product of any society; they are simply on its fringes, either accepted and venerated (as the extreme religious are) or decried and declared outlaw. Treadwell's delivery into the hands of death, almost of his own choosing, rather than face the claustrophobia and social oppresion of human society was a kind of manifestation of a Buddhist idea --the spiritual over the material. But the contrasting "dramas" of the two films and their impact on me was the difference between that of a hundred thousand tinkling bells and witnessing a volcano blow off.

A couple of points. That comment about Herzog not being that interested in making this movie is not my speculation. I got this from inkblot's comment. He said that Herzog said this at a Q&A after a screening of the film that he attended. While not saying he didn't develop more interest in the film as it progressed, I think this lack of involvement showed in the detached narration and relative lack of analysis in the movie. Your references to "Woodstock" are also very interesting and make a good analogy, especially for Americans of the Boomer generation, like myself. If you've ever been to a massive rock concert, you know the experience has not been replicated on film, but this one approaches it. However, the reason for being at the concert--the transporting nature of the music --is how an audience watching the movie can connect with those celebrants at Woodstock. To contrast with "Wheel of Time," were you content to just observe or did you become a participant, as I did with "Grizzly?" Sure, we can watch a film about the Kung Bushman of the Kalahari hunting, killing and sharing giraffe meat, but do you feel like you have been through what they went through? Do you become or really know Bushman? That's the difference between "Wheel" and "Grizzly" for me. If you have any part of Treadwell's love, enthusiasm, and yes, "childlike" behavior, in you, then you can go at least part-way with him on his journey. Those who dare not wander so far from the safe path of life do not understand his reaching for the ecstatic.

Good luck with the new semester. My guess is that you're going to UB, as I did in my first venture to college. It was there at the old campus center through the film society, and at the theatre downtown on Main Street (yes?) that I saw many excellent and still memorable films such as "The Harder They Come," "Lenin in Poland" and a Jimi Hendrix documentary.