Werner Herzog, Director
Lions Gate Films, 2005
March of the Penguins
Luke Jacquet, Director
Warner Independent Pictures, 2005
Look: What is nature? What is death? And who’s looking? These are pivotal issues in trying to understand two new documentaries about the natural world, Werner Herzog’sGrizzly Man and Luc Jacquet’s March of the Penguins.
Visually the two films could not be more different. Grizzly Man takes place in an Alaskan forest worthy, at times, of The Blair Witch Project. Penguins unfolds in a vast Antarctic icescape whose subtle gradations of blue and rose suggest a canvas of Georgia O’Keeffe. Grizzly Man’s characters are few and intense: bears, foxes, and humans. The focus in Penguins is on great homogeneous groups as we see them march and belly across ice fields, huddle against the cold, sport, mate, and tend to their young en masse.
In Penguins, to die is to “simply fall asleep and disappear” into the vastness, but in Grizzly Man, it is a horrific, unjust event. We see the “Grizzly Man,” Timothy Treadwell, naturalist, eco-activist, child eternal, tearfully cradle a dead baby fox, mourn a bee found dead on a flower petal, and rail against God for withholding rain. Without rain to swell the river and bring fish to the grizzlies, they will eat their babies or starve: “It just doesn’t seem right!” The untimely crack of a penguin’s egg fallen to the hard ice, frost invading tender innards in time-lapse agony, though the parent keens, is delivered in timeless perspective, one egg among many, one generation among many.
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