Narcissus And The Grizzly Bears

I set my Tivo to record the film "Grizzly Man" on the Discovery Channel a week or so ago and had the opportunity to watch it the other night. What a great film! I liked it so much that I have decided to interrupt my ongoing series of essays regarding the nature of psychotherapy technique in order to comment on it. I'll return to the psychotherapy material soon, but for today, I'll share my sense of this wonderful film. Warning – I'll probably have spoilers in the content below here. If you haven't seen the movie and want to experience it with pristine eyes, then stop reading, go see the movie (It is probably out on DVD by now) and THEN come back and read.


Grizzly Man tells the story of Timothy Treadwell, a man who spent thirteen long summers of his life living with (communing with, filming, photographing) grizzly bears in Alaska. Grizzly bears are not your average brown or black bear – they are behemoths of the bear world and every inch wild carnivorous apex predators. Some are 10 feet tall on their hind legs and may weigh over a thousand pounds. They are a natural marvel in many ways; huge, powerful, fast, bloody and beautiful. Most of all, they are predators. It is quite dangerous for an unprotected, unarmed human being to be near a grizzly bear. Tim Treadwell knew this of course, but he made a lifestyle out of living in very close and unprotected proximity to these creatures for over a decade, filming them and doing what he could do to protect them. The bears didn't understand him or his complex motivations. Mostly, they seem to have ignored him. Ultimately, one of them started thinking of him as a food source and then ate him and his girlfriend.

Grizzly Man is not really about Treadwell's death at the paws and jaws of a large bear, however. His death is a central event for the film but also quite incidental to the heart of the film which is the exploration of who this man Treadwell was and what his motivations were in living and dying the way that he did. This is a story about the personal psychology of Timothy Treadwell, and it is a fascinating story at that.

By all accounts, Treadwell's early adult life was "troubled", meaning he was alcoholic (at least). I gather he was also someone with a temper; both passionate, and impulsive in the manner in which he approached life. He was not an academic sort of person. Instead, he wanted to be an actor and had moved to southern California to pursue an acting career with little real success. As is the case for many alcoholics, he seems to have had some arrested social development. His film clips show him to be simultaneously charismatic and painfully vulnerable and awkward. In terms of emotional maturity, he comes across as a young man (like a teenager still struggling with how to pick up chicks) even though he was in his late 30s when most of the film clips were shot.

At some point in his early 30s, Treadwell experienced a life-changing epiphany; a conversion experience of almost religious intensity. He became born-again, but instead of finding Jesus, he found the bears. The bears seem to have represented many things. They were endangered, and thus needed a champion to help keep them safe. At the same time, they were wild and formidable predators and simply being near them was taking his life into his hands. The thrill of this danger seems to have been very exciting. The longer he was able to pull off surviving this danger, the more potent the allure of the bears seems to have become. The bears met multiple needs, then: 1) a need to care for and protect something larger than himself, 2) the ability to be a spokesman for something larger than himself (the bears) and to bask in their reflected glory, 3) the thrill of danger that an impulsive sort of guy given to extremes of behavior craves, and 4) a sense of special toughness at being able to survive bear encounters. That the bears live in a physically gorgeous and pristine setting (near Kodiak Island in Alaska), one that is nearly eden-like in its beauty could only contribute to the allure of the bears. It seems to have been love at first sight; and the alcohol could not compete. He gave up drinking and started living with and for the bears every moment he could.

Now, the typical person who goes up to Alaska to work with bears would be an environmental scientist, a biologist or something like that. Someone with a professional background who was interested in studying bears, in the sense of measuring and recording what they do in a systematic, detached and "objective" manner. Treadwell's approach to bears was not detached or objective in the slightest. His connection to the bears was instead extremely subjective: personal, emotional and highly impressionistic. Treadwell literally identified with the bears, seeing in their inhuman perfection the perfection of his own identity. He anthropomorphized the bears, reading sentimental human motives into them that probably weren't there. He spoke to them as a lover, telling them that they were beautiful. He told them he loved them. To watch him interact in his gorgeous footage is to watch a man who both knows that he is completely in danger and who is also so enraptured by the gorgeousness of it all that he doesn't care. He cared about the bears and the foxes and the land with a depth and a passion that would be pathetic if it weren't so poignant and true. I couldn't help but like him for this expressive and exuberant quality.

On the whole, though, Treadwell is not a particularly easy guy to like; at least not in the manner he is portrayed in Grizzly Man. Watching Treadwell engage with the animals is both fascinating and anger-inducing for many people I've spoken with. You can't help but be impressed with his energy and enthusiasm, but being far more detached from the scene, you also can't help but recognize the danger that the guy has put himself in. You yell at him in your head for taking such unnecessary risks, for putting himself so blatantly in harm's way. It is completely like he has made himself into a human sacrifice to the bear gods, and you can't help but curse him for being a fool taking foolish and unnecessary risks.

You also yell at him for being so clearly grandiose and so out of his element. He's getting off on thinking of himself as a "protector of bears", when really he isn't helping things. The film cuts from beautiful footage of Treadwell with the animals to interviews with people who are supposedly bear experts in order to make it clear that probably the very last thing the bears of Alaska ever needed was an on-site, unarmed "protector". What the bears do seem to need is a good lawyer (to fight back arctic oil drilling proposals so popular among the corrupt politicians running the country today), and an armed guard (to guard against poachers who kill the bears for sport and folk-medicine sex remedies). What the bears seem to need most of all is to be left alone. Though clearly well meaning, what Treadwell seems to actually accomplish is to get bears familiar with humans, who are of course the most dangerous predators of all. This is a bad outcome because when bears start getting used to humans, they may seek out places where humans live, resulting ultimately in their needing to be destroyed. As a Native American museum curator from the area suggests in one of the interviews in the film, it is best if bears and humans live separate lives, and no people from one group get too familiar with the other. When such familiarity does occur it typically ends tragically. Treadwell's case is no exception.

"There's something vaguely creepy about this guy, something off with him, but I don't know what it is", said my wife who had also seen the movie. "I'd say he's a just a jerk, but what do you think?" I replied, "Oh – the guy's a narcissist." To me, one of the major things that makes Treadwell's behavior so anger-inducing is the way that he uses the bears as objects (as cast members in his own private movie about Treadwell) rather than respecting their actual needs (to be left alone). When you really care about someone else in a mature way, you act towards them in a manner that will enhance their well-being as much as your own, rather than ignoring that other person's needs in favor of your own. This is a tricky point to make, because it is amply clear that Treadwell does care about the bears and thinks he is doing the right thing by them. However, he views the bears through a narcissistic lens which makes them revolve around himself. What is good for them must be that he be present with them, becuase that is what he wants. He does not see that they are better served with him absent entirely. Consequently, Treadwell's efforts are ultimately more about doing things that make Treadwell feel excited to be alive then they are about actually protecting and venerating bears. This is the central mark of the narcissist. In Grizzly Man, all the other characters (bears included) revolve around Treadwell . Whenever in life you meet someone and it's all about them, you've met a narcissist.

The DSM defines the following criteria for the Narcissistic Personality Disorder:

A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five or more of the following:

  • Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
  • Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love.
  • Believes that he or she is "special" and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions).
  • Requires excessive admiration
  • Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations.
  • Is interpersonally exploitive, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends.
  • Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
  • Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
  • Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.

To be very clear, Treadwell doesn't meet every one of these criteria. Based on the information we get in the movie, there is no sense that he is especially interpersonally exploitive, for example. While he does come across as socially immature, it is not in a mean spirited way. He seems more insecure than envious. There is, however, clear grandiosity present (as evidenced by the unique manner in which he understood his mission to "save the bears"). Treadwell does believe he is special and unique (e.g., safe from predation because he has special knowledge of how to handle bears). He does seem preoccupied with a fantasy of ideal beauty and love even if it is in relation to bears in their eden rather than the more conventional love of self scenarios. We can also check the "excessive admiration" box simply by noting that this is a man who filmed himself and only himself interacting with bears with the intent to become a movie star (and succeeded posthumously in an ugly twist of fate). There is also a case to be made for his "sense of entitlement" although I won't elaborate on that here. Finally, I've already noted the manner in which I think Treadwell lacked true empathy for the bears in the larger sense of understanding their predicament in the context of the modern world. He sought to join their world rather than simply to venerate and protect it, and in so doing probably harmed them more than helped them. That's five criteria met, so I'm content (playing the armchair psychologist game) to say that this particular shoe fits.

Or does it? It fits the portrayal of Timothy Treadwell in the film Grizzly Man, but there is no way of knowing if it would have fit Timothy Treadwell, the human being without having been able to know him personally. I certainly never met the guy, and have only a carefully edited and selected samples of his behavior to go on in making my assessment. My data is suspect too. It is almost certain that the film's director carefully assembled film segments to paint a particular and biased picture. In reality television otherwise boring situations are edited so that they become compelling and melodramatic story lines (I'm thinking of "The Bachelor"), and there is no reason to think that this movie is anything other than (high quality) reality television. It's a fun exercise to identify personality patterns, and a guilty pleasure to psychoanalyze others (admit it!), but I would not lean heavily on a biased snapshot assessment based on a film portrayal if Treadwell were to have come to me for help prior to his death. In that case, I'd want to suspend judgment as best I could and get to know him on his own terms.

I said above that it was the "It's all about me" aura that Treadwell radiates in the film that first alerted me to the narcissistic aspects of his persona. There was another part too that also tipped me in that direction. Treadwell's ex-girlfriend (Jewel) noted that she found a mirror and/or a comb in every article of clothing she inherited from him. As she related this to some of Treadwell's other friends, they all broke into smiles, noting that Treadwell's blond hair, styled into a Prince Valiant sort of bowl cut, was always carefully in place in his films; He was always hyper-aware of being on camera and the center of his own attention. That was part of his charm. That sort of detail also rang the narcissist bell for me loud and clear. The fact that his friends missed him so much also signified to me that, as narcissists go (self-centered people by definition), this one would have been a pleasant guy to have known.

Anyway, I really enjoyed the movie, and recommend it to anyone who is interested in nature, physical landscape beauty, bears or personality. What do you think?

Comments
  • Ben

    I think you are very correct, Timothy took himself to the bears to try and become some grandioso figure amongst them, all for the purpose of showing the world what he was. It is as if he took himself to some tribal african village and showed them some modern tricks to become their king, he manipulated the situation to seem larger than life, constantly claiming to be the only protector of the bears. I pity both he and his girlfriend for suffering quite possibly the most gruesome deaths possible, but he put both of them in that position. The first lesson one learns going into the outdoors is to respect your surroundings. You don't swim in schools of great white sharks, you don't try to become king of the Piranha, and you damn well should not parade yourself among Grizzly Bears. You were correct in your assessment, the Grizzlys are best left alone, and should certainly not be used to fullfill ones need for self-affirmation etc. My rewiew: Bad for the bears, poor guy, poor girl, B-movie

  • amyalexander

    I enjoyed reading your comments about this interesting and wacky, but beautiful film. Strangely, it struck me as comical. ( the scene with the coroner and the gift of the watch to the exgirfriend was over the top!)... and I wonder how in the course of 13 years the man was never committed. He was an obvious danger to himself... and ultimately others. I agree that this man was grandiose, delusionally so. His takes and re-takes and retakes again, with this bandana or that bandana... his hyperverbality, pressured speech, delusions of reference, and the obvious irritibility, and moodiness leads me to wonder if he were having a bit of a manic episode. Narcissism certainly of delusional grand proportion. WOW.

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  • Marc Belanger

    Seeing Herzog's documentary, a question popped in my mind... During the last year of his life, Treadwell was OBVIOUSLY narcissistic, with grandiose delusions, he also showed signs of being histrionic, manic, paranoid and he somewhat DID have a suicide plan, of which he was quite explicit about: He wanted to die with "his" bears... In fact, this guy would have been "certifiable", i.e.: He could have been hospitalized against his will as he was OBVIOUSLY threatening his own life!!! Why didn't any of his friends/colleagues called the police on him and placed him in an hospital under strict medication and observation! A bit of Lithium or Prozac might have saved this guy!!! That's what made me so uncomfortable watching this film... Treadwell is not "original" or "emotional" or "freakish", he's downright ILL! What he needed was TREATMENT!!! Let this be a lesson... If you have a friend like Treadwell and you love your friend, get him to the hospital, against his will if need be!!!

  • patti

    Years ago I watched a nature presentation on television. At one point in the presentation, there was a clip of a monkey sitting fairly close to a python on a tree trunk. The python was extremely still. Every few seconds, the monkey would sidle over to the python, bat at it, and then move back to it's original spot on the limb. The python remained extremely still. For about 3 or 4 minutes, the monkey repeated its taunting of the huge snake. Then the monkey made one more approach. This time, there was a blur of movement which ended with the monkey half way down the snake's throat. The announcer concluded that, "nature does not tolerate fools." I have never forgotten that little scene, and it immediately popped back into my mind as I watched Treadwell reach out and try to touch those huge wild animals. I have absolutely no idea what might have motivated the monkey, and I have only a vague idea of what motivated Treadwell. However, I was astonished by the actions of both. The movie was beautiful thanks to Treadwell's photography. The movie was mesmerizing thanks to Treadwell's preoccupation with himself and to the general fascination on the part of most of us with stories of gruesome death. The move was B-grade because of Hertzog's shallowness and heavyhandedness as a director. There are any number of directors who could have taken the wealth of material Hertzog was given and could have turned the production into a stunning work of art. Hertzog turned it into a carnival sideshow with Treadwell and others as the geeks.

  • Gina Cone

    I read with interest your criteria for considering Timothy Treadwell as a Narcissistic personality. I was fairly convinced, after watching Grizzly Man and doing some related reading, that Mr. Treadwell was suffering from Bipolar disorder. There was definitely something manic in his rants against the Park officials, and in his exhortations for rain. It was mentioned somewhere in the film that he had briefly been medicated for extreme mood swings. It would also explain his belief that the bears would not hurt him, and there was definite grandiosity in the way he portrayed himself as their saviour. Even his drugs of choice, alcohol and cocaine, are hallmarks of a bipolar. One could make a better argument for manic rather than depressive behaviour from the film, but depression does not make for good television. Also, it is doubtful he would film himself while depressed. Can both conditions exist in one person at the same time? Either way, it certainly adds to the tragedy and inevitability of what eventually befell him. One feature of at least the manic part of Bipolar is bad judgement, and the consequences can be fatal, even if it involves something as mundane as driving too fast. I think Timothy Treadwell showed a different kind of recklessness, all the while convinced that he knew what he was doing. Gina Cone

    Editor's Note: There is no reason that the two disorders cannot cooccur, and perhaps a few to think that in Treadwell's case, they very well might have.

  • B.French

    First thought after viewing film, very ill person. Manic oh ya. Enjoyed the music tremendously. Photography beautiful. I felt great empathy for Tim and my thoughts during the film were that he needed to be on meds. The park service exercised tremendous restraint in dealing with him too much so. Watching someone self destruct in such a manner is gut wrenching. His childhood would be interesting to study. Self centered, egotistical, inferiority complex. Brain chemistry wacked out by poor diet. Understand junk food and high sugar was main diet. Grey matter destroyed by excessive alcohol and drugs. Enjoyed the film. Herzog accomplished exactly what he wanted in this film. People have been buzzing about the film and Tim, well Tim got the ultimate gift for someone with his disorder. Tragic lost soul. In the end, he and his companion suffered beyond imagination. The horror.

  • Elizabeth

    I have not yet seen the movie. Having read Dr. Dombeck's description of the Grizzlyman, it reminds me of behavior I have seen from certain abuse victims and their relationships with vicious dogs. The behavior is similiar in that the individuals "protect" the animal, idealize them, and are playing a dangerous and risky game involving control. It seems like "identifying with the aggressor," one kind of response when one tries to gain mastery over abuse. Any other thoughts on this?

  • lisamarie

    Dr. Dombeck is absolutely right. I've been married to a Grizzly Man for 33 years, he came back from Iraq where he was saving the world for democracy and has just left for Liberia where he has gone to save the natives for...you go ahead and fill in the blanks. Sense of entitlement Megalomania All the traits you mentioned But, Dr. Dombeck, you didn't mention the woman who shared his fate. She was killed by his self-absorption and self-aggrandizement. And the only fleeting picture of her was as she was getting out of the plane. Nothing about Grizzly man was about the bears, nothing. What a pitiful, risible, pathetic creature he was, a morality tale for us all.

  • Vicki Smith

    I believe that this young man was ill and being narcissistic was his best tool for his endeavors. His eventual death was inevitable. Living with someone who is narcisistic can be extremely aggravating sometimes. They can't hear or see what they say and do that in reality makes them seem so self centered that they couldn't possibly give time or emotion for those around them. Listening to the continuous onslaught of how he is on a higher plane than most others is disgusting and makes me want to get far away from him. It is too bad this young man didn't get any psychological help and mine is in dire need of psychotherapy so that perhaps a true mirror could be held up and abate the disease.

  • Me

    [quote]His film clips show him to be simultaneously charismatic and painfully vulnerable and awkward. In terms of emotional maturity, he comes across as a young man (like a teenager still struggling with how to pick up chicks) even though he was in his late 30s when most of the film clips were shot.[/quote] It seems like a preliminary diagnosis for Borderline Personality Disorder? I'm sure there's other disorders......but that one stands out. However, usually BPD have a fragile self image of themselves. Maybe it still applies? http://www.palace.net/~llama/psych/bpd.html

  • Anonymous-1

    i saw the film. as a physician, my diagnosis is amphetamine psychosis. this would account for his weight loss, short temper, mood swings, hyperactivity, paranoia, and extreme irritibility.

  • Scott

    Yes, Treadwell was a narcissist with an insatiable craving for affirmation that he was not insignificant, as his failed acting career might suggest. His need to be the center of a self-scripted world was evident when upbraiding his companion Amy for wandering into the camera shot as they unloaded gear from the seaplane in preparation for another summer in the wild. "I'm supposed to be alone!" he chides. She was there to record and validate his drama, not upstage him. Indeed, much of the footage documented only his head as he rattled inanely on. As in the Greek myth, this latter-day Narcissus and his Echo were consumed by a flattering but unreal reflection.

  • Lynda

    My Son's pediatrician about a dozen years ago told me that without a formal evaluation he felt that my then Husband was a narcisstic personality. I was told to take our small baby to this doctor when he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. this doctor had been, unknown to me, the pediatrician of my husband's children by a first wife, and he was consequently privy to abuse in that marriage, as well as to an eventual testimony from myself ............regarding my emotional/and physical abuse from my husband. I had lived in NY, modeled my whole life, studied theater, was around obviously, narcisstic "types", however was unfamiliar with the "disorder". 12 years later, after a horrible divorce,,oh yes I forgot to mention, this narcisstic now ex-husband is a LAWYER!!! although he has a long wrap sheet of women that he abused, he is supported by the fraternity that is the law! he now is trying to, I believe, devistate me by placing our son who turned 18 in a group home,,!!! and has propelled me to "look crazy",,,etc. by thinking that my son is trapped in his body with a brain! Now my ex is handsome, etc. and women, men are confused! Everyone always asked me, WHY??? why does he do this? why doesn't he want to help his son??? he wants to appear to help his son now, (because court is watching), however he does not retain hardly any of the information at a therapy session, dr's appointment ,,,,,,,,,,it's mostly for show. what is more confusing, ...he takes our son every other weekend, so that it appears that he is involved with him! I know he isn't really, but THE AVERAGE PERSON DOESN'T KNOW ABOUT NARCISISM! quite honestly, I find a lot of people now around me are??? is it becoming more pervasive? are mother's not allowing normal development of self esteem issues? Please help me I am fighting a system of good old boys, he now has the dream team,,,i have NO ONE! (AND I'M ACTUALLY CUTE TOO :) oUR COURT date is July 26th and I will have to watch our son be turned over to the state group home because my ex HAS EVERYONE FOOLED! (520) 529-8036 HELP

  • Jennifer

    Timothy used all of his closest friends to raise money for his bear summers. I consider that extremely exploitive. He opened a "charity" called BEAR PEOPLE which was not registered as 501(c)3 at the time, but to which he got friends, family and celebrity to donate tons of money. His pitch was that he had to "save the bears" not mentioning that they were in an already protected reserve.

    Here is one thank you note he wrote to a friend showing clear manipulation for monies raised: http://outside.away.com/outside/news/200401/200401_treadwell_letter.html

    Even Amie Huguenard--whom some think was his girlfriend (including Amie herself)--never took an important place in his life.

    I think you hit it right on target -- narcissist. Definitely mentally ill.

  • fl

    I just read an interesting article about "treadwell" - which was not even his real name and apparently he was not exactly who or what he claimed to be.. and by his behavior and actions, he was in reality as abusive to the bears as he apparently was to people, disregarding all warning and rules, lying about his "special priveledges" and his "special relationships" with officials and the bears and taking absurd risks not just because he thought he was so "special" but because he was exploiting a situation and the bears.

    People should remember that a woman, Amie Huguenard, 37, also died.

    "Bear Activist and Companion Mauled to Death in Alaska"

    Associated Press / May 8,

    http://www.shewolfworks.com/wolfsong/news/Alaska_current_events_815.htm

  • Anonymous-2

    I would have to disagree with the Narcissism diagnosis. I think he was definitely cyclothymic, with PDNOS as the axis II diagnosis (borderline and histrionic features). I believe the narcissistic features are better accounted for within this context. Anyway, just my two sense...

  • JR

    I don't know about the diagnosis - but he does seem to have been seriously deluded for some reason. The difference between the "Africian village" situation cited by an earlier poster and the bear situation is that, while it is distinctly possible that the rational, if impressionable inhabitants of the African village might have been sufficiently impressed by the odd magic trick to elect the outsider "king", bears are not susceptible to similar influence. From a Grizzly Bear point of view, humans are likely to be seen as either (1) a pain in the butt, or (2) food or (3) both, in succession. I know that it is probably not in harmony with the analytical framework in this website but - he must have been mad !

    Yours from Down in the Woods Today,

    JR.

  • Anna Chapman

    Did you happen to have any opinions on the emotional/psychological profiles of the other people appearing in the film? Jewel and the other "girl friends" were clearly emotionally stunted and had taken on "ecology" as a means of dealing with this. But I am especially wondering about the coroner. What an odd guy! Did you happen to see footage of the judge in the Anna Nicole Smith inquest? He spoke histrionically about Anna Nicole being like the three musketeers -- all for one and one for all -- to the point where the story he created about her in his mind made him weep. I noticed the same characteristics in the coroner. It seems these deaths form a huge part about what he thinks about himself. And how do you come to be a coroner in remote Alaska? I definitely think this coroner has some sort of personality disorder, maybe narcissistic himself. I have a narcissistic father, and one of his classic characteristics is that he gets in fights with people under the guise of "protecting" someone else. He is constantly fighting battles to protect others. And these are ridiculous battles. Who does this sound like? Yes, our man Treadwell. And did you get a glimpse of his family? Coo coo! One telling clip from Treadwell's footage was when he was constantly asserting that he was not gay and liked girls. This sounds like a big issue he was struggling with. Also, in the clip where he was angry with the Park service, he started quoting someone as saying they saw him on Letterman and found it entertaining. This made him really angry. I suspect this was what his father had said to him. I strongly suspect big issues with his father, gaining his approval, wanting to show him he was "tough" and oh so definitely not gay. Perhaps his father called him a sissy, or a "pansy" growing up (note the footage Herzog included of the Pansy Farm from Dexter home videos. What do you think?

  • joeyp

    i think the discussion below this essay is exactly why he lived with bears for half a year. He wanted to escape the "civilized" world where we have to diagnose everything for a world much more raw and beautiful. I appreciate the article about his reasoning behind it, and i agree that he may be somewhat narcissistic. But I don't believe he had any medical issues. And if he did, I don't think they change his story in the least bit. He may put himself in harms way and in a situation where he could've very easily been killed, but he did it because he loved it. Also in the 13 summers he spent there, before he was killed, he was not attacked once. He made it through the 13th summer safely, he was attacked in the end of autumn though, after the bears he named and filmed had gone into hibernation. He was attacked not because he was being wreckless or dangerous, but because a bear was hungry. He was not out filming, he was returning to his tent when the bear found him. So even if he did put himself in harms way, I feel like he was not stupid in his decisions. He truly felt for these bears the way we would about our families and our closest friends. He may have been wrong about the bears in his filming, but they were not the only characters. He was also filming himself, Timothy Treadwell, in a way that he learns and exposes much more about himself then many of us ever learn in our lifetimes. So even if he wasn't protecting the bears the way he thought he was, he was doing what he truly loved for bears that he truly cared about and loved. I can't help but respect him for that.

  • Anonymous-3

    I think you're seeing this the wrong way. Yes, he is narcissistic, but he is there filming the bears, as seen by the shots not including him. If all he wanted was camera time, he would've sat at home. Maybe he was wrong about him being the savior of the bears, but his intentions are obviously purely to help the bears and the wildlife of the forests where he stays. Watch the part about the bee, it's pretty obvious he truly cares.

  • Pinky the 'Analyst'

    Just watched the follow-up film by Swiss biologist, David Bittner, which brought back my first impression of Tim Treadwell - that he had remained on a course of self-destruction, even after giving up drugs/alcohol. Sadly, Amie had chosen the role of 'Rescuer' in her relationship with Tim long before that final scene (which also speaks to her choice of career.....) Do we understand the origins of Narcissism? We need to know more about Tim's early childhood relationships..........

  • Jen

    Absolutely a fantasic piece. Your defintion of Narcissim is defined crystal clear with your examples. Had to comment on how impressive your work was put together!

  • Heather

    Most people live mudane lifestyles-including myself. We go from one motion to the next almost robotically. Timmy had a heightened sense of emotion and in the freedom of the wild, expressed himself without the self- restraint that we are taught is socially acceptable. In a sense, he utilized nature as his therapy for his troubles. Most scenes where he is expressing profound emotion I believe were not shot with the intentions of being made into a feature film. He most likely filmed them in an emotional state and forgot the footage. He was trying to establish an identity for himself and becoming a savior to animals was a noble cause that he truely believed in. Why is it considered heroic if men race cars too fast and die from brain damage? Why are we not psychoanalyzing NASCAR? Why do we convince ourselfs that it is heroic to send our young men to war to get blown up? All that is healthy but sweet Timmy is a narcissistic bipolar histrionic mentally ill man? I would like to say thank you Timmy for doing what you believed was noble in a world so full of hypocrisy. :)

  • Michele

    I appreciate your assessment of Timothy Treadwell, I like that you see the beauty and romance in his ideas, as well as his narcissism. I wonder that some of your commenters think it would have better for him to be institutionalized--really? I am fascinated by Treadwell because I see someone who led a unique life despite his limitations and pain. His death was horrible, but he made meaning for himself. He caused the death of two bears and two humans, but his photos and videos raise awareness of the incredible gorgeousness of wild creatures in their own habitats, which offer the opportunity for more support for their causes. Its just not black and white, and as I search for commentary on Treadwell, i am happy to read this because I think you see the complexity.

  • AK49

    Mentally ill and ultimately harmful to himself, his girlfriend, and the bears he said he wanted to protect. Parents were in denial, friends seemed possibly as narcissistic as he was. Sad movie, really.

  • Lola

    I agree that he was looking for death. Everytime he ended saying he would die for the bears, die with them... Was the way he found, have a beautiful suicide, planned and expected everyday, among the creatures he loved. He knew it, he wanted it the most. Admirable, except for the dead girl.

  • kimberly

    I agree with you, sir, that Treadwell had a major personality disorder. His ego was very wrapped up in his idea of having something special about himself that made the bears not rip him to shreds from day one - while in reality, the areas where he camped have some of the safest, calmest, most laid back brown bears on the planet. One biologist commented that one could run a day care center right in the middle of Kaflia, and the bears would barely even notice.

    While I think Treadwell had a good heart, and maybe even believed in what he was doing, he was certainly a fool. His judgement was way off. And I find much fault in him for the way he raised money for those summer camping trips. There were no poachers, and he was capable of lying about them being there in order to persuade his eco-housewife hollywood friends to write the checks. He can go on and on all he wants about how he taught kids for free - the bottom line is, he would not have been able to do any of that stuff if not for the donations he recieved to "protect" the bears in a protected national park, and he lied to get those donations, painted a picture that was false.

    I am also very much against habituating wild life to humans, and I think the park service should have done something about him long before the tragedy. It's too bad he died, but I don't feel much sympathy for him, he did as he wanted and in a way orchestrated his own death.

  • Anonymous-4

    I agree with your assessment of Timothy during this film. I am very surprised that you didn't mention the clip where Jewel talks so endearingly of his constant desire to watch the sentencing of law offenders in a court room. While I do believe he was a Narcissist, I also believe he was a psychopath. He seemed to actually enjoy physically the destruction and carnage of all life, revelling in it at times. I believe his Narcissism masked what was truly going on. He feigned a caring persona in order to pursue his obsession with death, carnage, and

  • Terry Kohla

    I loved this film. I related a lot to Timothy when I watched it. I could feel his anger, his pain, his love, his enthusiasm and his ideals. I could see how others would judge him for being a crazy person, but I didn't think so. I thought he was really connected to nature, I tend to idealize nature myself. I blamed his death on the fact that his girl friend was present that summer as opposed to the 12 previous ones. She might have triggered something in the bears. She might have been scared which can release pheromones which the bears can smell. Timothy was totally connected and intunned with them and that is hard to understand for the common joe. I on the other hand have been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, which can cause me to have narcisistic phases as well as anti-social behavior. Great article by the way.

  • Anonymous-5

    I think that Treadwell was a survivor of sexual abuse. He displays more accurately the symptoms of complex post traumatic stress disorder than narcissism. Tellingly, he changed his name when he left home. Also tellingly, his parents ascribe the crippling dysfunction in his life to adulthood, claiming that when he was a child and living with them he was "normal."

    People with CPTSD display narcissistic traits in an affort to form and maintain a working identity because ego formation has been continually disrupted.

  • Michael

    Basically a pure nutjob.

    Total wrong perception of facts (eg. life-threatening animals) and self-perception. I personally wouldn't be doubtful when it comes to his noble goals but after all it's about self-serving pleasure for him.

  • derbingle

    Very well written. Pretty much agree. Couldnt stop watching the raw footage of a human that was obviously troubled and so willing to share himself. At times, when he is talking to the bears like one would a baby or kitten, you realize he doesnt see what we see. And you wonder is he conciously asking for it? or really unware of the eating machine he is trying to touch. Maybe he went there to comit suicide at first and survivied, every year a new dare. And the emotional changes he experienced accomplishing something so dangerous. Feeling special, connected, known, needed. He wrote his own script According to his needs. The bears had no input. appeared to struggle with persecution. Feel really sorry for Amie...she must have trusted/believed he was special and could protect her.

  • Peekineeze

    It seems undeniable that Tim was mentally ill. I doubt he wanted to die. I do think he deluded himself into believing that the bears cared about him because of his illness. It's also apparent that he had some sort of life crisis that lead him there. People who are mentally well don't adopt a fake accent and lie about being born in Australia...or whatever the story was.

    I recognise some of his characteristics from friends of mine that were manic depressive. Delusions of grandeur, hostility towards others based on imagined insults, inability to shut up, a self centered-ness that is intolerable, almost inhuman focus on task...usually driven by delusions of grandeur.

    This was the perfect career for someone who's real life didn't fit into his epic perception of who he "really was". He was his own camera crew. He could talk to the camera about whatever narrative his imagination desired. His fake feud with the Parks service, poachers which he likely saved exactly zero bears from, rock throwing fisherman (oh the humanity). It was all in his imagination. He risked his life and eventually gave it, all while staring in a fiction of his own making.

  • Anonymous-6

    And by this i mean: is Timothy Treadwell that person who like the Greek story of narcissism has become fixated on his own image? So everwhere he goes he has become compelled to gaze upon it? Or is he someone who wants desparately to find the core of himself by staring into the face of death?

    In other words, what I'm suggesting instead is whether he's someone who has never discovered his inner self. So that his apparent sefl absorption is really more like befuddlement than self aggrandizement.

    Therefore, like the dog chasing his tale, he has gone on a desparate search down one blind alley after another through drugs, self fantasy, and finally something quite real but quite dangerous: wild bears living out in the open.

    So, given this thesis, wasn't he more like someone trying to find himself by reaching out to touch the untouchable? Where the untouchable is death. Which perhaps he dared in order to find within himself something other than a fiction.

  • B. Fuller

    Very well written meditation. My thoughts exactly - expressed in educated, professional terms.

  • Anonymous-7

    We have viewed the film three times and our assessment of Treadwell has not wavered. He appears delusional in his mission, reasoning and approach and his death proves it. It is very unfortunate that an innocent bystander perished with him.

  • Miss Valentina

    I truly feel sad for both Tim, and his friend Amie. The man was sick. No one in their right mind would walk amongst wild animals such as he did. Appearently Amie had some issues also that she would allow herself to be put in this type of danger, especially when she did not feel safe. I will not began to attempt to figure out what his mental issues were, as I am not a psychologist etc. I will just say he was seriously suffering from some type of mental health problem(s), were it was not easy for him to think with rationality, and see things realistically. He was well old enough to know that he was placing himself and another human being into a life threatening situation, it was not whether if it would happen or not, it was