Project Nim (2011)

21 Jan

Now this was a documentary I was really looking forward to (I named it in my 24 hours of movie watching post). This documentary is focussed on the chimpanzee Nim, who was the subject of an important experiment to find out whether or not primates could learn language when it was raised as a normal child.

If you have seen Man on Wire you will immediately recognise the style of director James Marsh, sometimes using re-enactments, but also archival footage. He manages to tell a compelling story, interviewing a lot of the people who were involved in the project. They tell how this baby chimpanzee was taken away from its mother and immediately taken care of by a family who already had several children. The fact that this was done without these people not knowing much about how to raise such an animal just treated it like a normal child, which even included his new “mother” breast feeding him, which to me was quite shocking.
The project was led by Herbert Terrace, a professor from Columbia university and as the story progresses becomes quite a controversial person. He is interviewed too so it manages to paint a complete picture. The sad thing about the story of Nim is as he grew older he started to show grown chimpanzee behaviour it was impossible to keep him under control (with some people showing the scars to prove it) and it was sad to see how it was handled with him ending up in a place for medical research, but also in other places.

Project Nim review

Project Nim is a very interesting documentary about what we might be able to teach a chimpanzee. It is also a look into the minds of people as you see how they experienced their interactions with Nim and how they look back on the experience. As a viewer you care about Nim and will feel for him knowing what he has been through as you watch the closing scenes. One of the better documentaries of last year.

Score: 8

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