Not all who attempt to live in nature survive. In the movie Grizzly Man narrated and directed by Werner Herzog and the novel Into the Wild written by Jon Krakauer, Timothy Treadwell and Chris McCandless both were driven by the idea of removing all traces of the mainstream modern world. Both of them chased a common goal and that was self satisfaction. That said, their need to satisfy themselves was different. McCandless wished to spend his summer cloistered in the remote Alaskan bush collecting and hunting for food.
Treadwell was an altruistic hearted man and wished to spend as much of his life with the native Alaskan bears protecting them from poachers and other predators. Rather than live off the land and forage for food, he was flown in with enough food to last the entirety of his travels, this way he could feel unencumbered, and focus on his documentary. Timothy Treadwell was a man who would never feel the same satisfaction as McCandless felt and this was due to his obsession with becoming part of his beloved bears.
In the end, Timothy Treadwell and Chris McCandless both succumbed to tragic deaths; however, Treadwell’s mental instability engendered unsafe choices. Treadwell’s psychological instability caused him to be affected by impulsive actions, unrealistic expectations, and an unfulfillable desire to become part of the bear population. Treadwell stated that his mercurial moods were part of his personality, and were going to be part of his life. He said, “I have to have the highs and the lows. It’s a part of my life, it’s a part of my personality” (Herzog).
He enjoyed the rogue life, filled with ups and downs and wanted to live a life that included the mood swings. Mood swings were what made Treadwell’s personality so abstract from society’s norms. Herzog states “He definitely had a dark side” (Herzog). Treadwell’s “dark side” refers to his poor alcoholic history, a history that perpetuated by his ‘ups and downs’. His use of alcohol, and drugs to self medicate meant hanging around with bad influences, and poor health. Treadwell states during one of his excursions, “I was troubled. I was troubled. I drank a lot….
I guess I was either gonna die from it or break free of it” (Herzog). Treadwell admits that he was an alcoholic, and that his actions caused him to became faced with death. During this rough period of his life he finds his new obsession, grizzly bears. Treadwell’s obsession with the bears became that of his previous situation, alcohol. Both obsessions, bears and alcohol, involved Treadwell’s obsessive personality, and both didn’t let him make rational decisions. Treadwell’s passion rapidly develops into more of an obsession, and allows him to justify his unrealistic situation.
Treadwell’s unrealistic expectations about living with the bears, forces him into hazardous situations. Treadwell acted as though he was a bear, but not any bear, he wished to become the alpha male who protected all the other bears. In an interview with a native to the area, it is stated that “Some people that I’ve spoken with would encounter him in the field, and he would act like a bear, he would “woof” at them” (Herzog). Treadwell’s mind was set on the unrealistic expectation that he was the bears’ true protector and savior.
Treadwell mentally had become a bear, and strived to stand his ground when faced with potential predators to the bears. By doing this, he insinuated that bears couldn’t survive and strive the way they have been for centuries. Treadwell’s unwanted presence upset the natives as if he disregarded the independence of the wild bears. Treadwell was filled with expectations of saving the wild alaskan grizzly bear population, however these expectations were far from a reality. His true mental instability does not allow him to keep a safe and respectful distance from the bear’s leading to his later death.
Like Treadwell, McCandless also struggled with impulsivity, however McCandless was still able to make rational decisions, even when they contradicted his original plan. McCandless’s plan came to an end after being faced with rough terrain. Krakauer stated about McCandless’s situation, “Faced with the obvious folly of his original ambition, to walk five hundred miles to tidewater, he reconsidered his plans. On May 19, having traveled no farther west than the Toklat River, less than fifteen miles beyond the bus” (Krakauer). McCandless was rational and knew his original plan would result in death.
He made the responsible decision to not carry on his original plan. This was not the only road block McCandless faced, after spending multiple months in the wilderness, he decided it was time to head home to his family. Krakauer writes, “Satisfied, apparently, with what he had learned during his two months of solitary life in the wild, McCandless decided to return to civilization: It was time to bring his final and greatest adventure to a close and get himself back to the world of men and women, where he could chug a beer, talk philosophy, enthrall strangers with tales of what he’d done” (Krakauer).
This goal was quite literally within seeing distance. McCandless looking across Teklanika river that was once slow moving and knee height was now racing at five feet deep. McCandless again was forced to change his plan, even though he was not set up to stay. McCandless made a rational choice stay and continue his journey even though he was not prepared to do so. Both McCandless and Treadwell’s journey proved fatal, however unlike Treadwell, McCandless was able to make rational decisions throughout his journey. McCandless’s death was a tragic accident and left the whole world in question of his survival skills.
McCandless’s death was caused by the consumption of moldy roots. McCandless knew the roots weren’t poisonous, however he didn’t realize that the mold on the roots would be toxic. Krakauer states, “The plant that poisoned him wasn’t toxic, per se; McCandless simply had the misfortune to eat moldy seeds. An innocent mistake, it was nevertheless sufficient to end his life” (Krakauer, 194). After an itinerant journey around the country, McCandless lost his life due to the consumption of a plant that wasn’t even know to be poisonous.
On May 10, 1991, McCandless writes this in his journal, “It is the experiences, the memories, the great triumphant joy of living to the fullest extent in which real meaning is found. God it’s great to be alive! Thank you. Thank you” (Krakauer 37). His sense of rectitude, and enthusiasm about his journey does not allow him to be weighed down by the insensate world around him. McCandless is attempting to live to the fullest’ and find the ‘real meaning of life. McCandless died a young and tragic death, however he lived his life the way he wished too, and always pushed himself, leaving him on his deathbed self-satisfied.
Treadwell’s impulsivity to distance himself from the outside world at all costs, and overwhelming impulses toward interacting with bears eventually led to a tragic death. At this stage of Treadwell’s life he had become very frustrated with the outside world. In his diary he wrote “How much I hate the people’s world” (Herzog). His hatred of the human world fed his desire to become one of the bears and push his boundaries to stay out longer. Treadwell did just that, he returned once more late in the season to try to spend every last second away from “the people’s world”.
Herzog states, “upon their return, he discovered that many of his bear friends had gone into hibernation. And scary, unknown and wilder bears from the interior had moved in” (Herzog). It is substantial that Herzog notes how “scary, unknown, and wilder” this set of bears truly were. Treadwell’s mental instability did not allow him to feel the same tension of the environment that his girlfriend, Amie, felt. Herzog stated that, “According to one of the last entries in Treadwell’s diary, Amie called him hell-bent on destruction” (Herzog).
Amie knew that eventually they were going to run into a “hungry, wilder bear” that was willing to take their life. Treadwell was called “hell-bent”, because at this point his addiction to become one of the bears was unbreakable. His obsessive mental tendency did not allow him to make rational decisions, such as waiting until the friendlier bears left their dens in the spring. Treadwell himself stated, “There is no, no, no other place in the world that is more dangerous, more exciting than the Grizzly Maze” (Herzog).
He understood that by entering the Grizzly Maze he was sacrificing his life and his girlfriend Amie’s. His addiction however was strong enough for him to roll the dice opposed to making a rational decision to wait. Both Timothy Treadwell and Chris McCandless followed their dream of living life the way they wanted to live it. Treadwell’s mental instability altered his ability to make safe choices. Treadwell had suffered his whole life from mental barriers, and many believed that this was the reason for his alcohol addiction along with his deadly obsession with bears.
McCandless’s fatal flaw was not due to mental illness, it was due to a lack of preparation. McCandless over thought packing necessities, such as a topographic map of the area. Experts say that with a map McCandless may have found a place to cross the Teklanika River, possibly allowing him to live a new and more eminent life. Treadwell and McCandless both lost their lives following their dreams; however, Treadwell’s mental instability and unsafe choices were the driving cause in his death.