Herzog’s documentaries ‘Grizzly Man’ and ‘Encounters at The End of The World’ are his explorations of the elusive human intellect, passion and man’s irresistible urge to explore hostile wilderness in order to understand self, world and the Universe.
‘Grizzly Man’ (2005) is based on the real life of Timothy Treadwell who chose to live amidst Alaska’s Grizzly bears in the wilderness for 13 years. Timothy spent few months every year in remote Alaska in the grizzly bears’ habitat. He was no academic researcher. He was an amateur wild life enthusiast who felt protecting innocent magnificent but ferocious beasts was his only mission in life.
He filmed Grizzly bears, foxes and his exploits in the wild territory and used the footage to create awareness among schoolchildren. Unfortunately, the very beasts they loved so passionately tragically devoured Timothy and his girlfriend. Herzog uses extensive 100 hours footage of Timothy to reconstruct the life and passion of the man. Herzog, rightly so, allows Timothy and his footage do all the talking while subtly adding his commentary and interviews with friends and family of Timothy. He investigates whether Timothy overstepped the undefined border between human world and animal world and if at all such a border exists. He brings Timothy Treadwell and his insecurities, loneliness, passion, anger, emotions alive endearingly and thus pays his homage to an extraordinary human mind and all the darkness within.
In ‘Encounters at the End of the World’ (2007) Herzog travels to far flung Antarctica to film the extreme land, animal world and also people (mainly researchers and engineers working for National Science Foundation) striving there to understand Nature, World and Universe. Herzog leaves no ambiguity about his purpose of the journey to the end of the world. Once again it’s a journey to unveil extraordinary human minds and places, which exist unseen in remote corner of the planet.
Herzog’s camera follows people, penguins, sea lions, even under the icy layer relentlessly as he weaves a magical tale about aspirations of man to explore and understand the unknown and existence of infinite unexplored land with beautiful life. He interviews many researchers and tries to delve deep in their inner being to understand their mad pursuit of dreams, which inspires them, survive in hostile place.
In both the films, Herzog’s exploration of wild animal world remains unique. He explores and presents wilderness in their full glory silently using only natural and animal sounds. He agonizes if at all any parallels could be drawn between animal life and human life and concludes very humbly that much life and Nature remain unknown and unexplored including the very depth and darkness of human soul.
This very darkness could be the result of man’s intelligence; intelligence that can never help either the man or the planet he lives in. In a philosophical way, we may say that man’s intelligence is his worst enemy for that makes him question his existence, and the difference between being a man and an animal. The bears who devoured Timothy could very well have been a radical government that devours the passions of its citizens.
The bears however have a tinge of innocence that the governments lack. Herzog’s description of man’s connection with the wild is at its natural best, for with all the nukes and bombs, we can never separate ourselves from the wilderness. We shall remain hunters, now and forever. Hunting not only members of other species, but also our own kind, leading to a cannibalistic portrayal of humankind.
In the other movie, one can equate the nothingness of barren Antarctica to the nothingness within us, and the life that the barren land supports is an indication to the fact that nothingness need not be nothing, and that it can sustain human lives.