Monkey trouble – Project Nim review

Project Nim Directed by James Marsh. Originally published July 27, 2011. By Simon Miraudo.

This review was first run during the Melbourne International Film Festival. Project Nim opens in select cinemas across Australia September 29, 2011. You can also read Jess Lomas’ review here.

Project Nim is the new film from director James Marsh, who gave us the Oscar-winning doco Man on Wire back in 2008. As it stands, he’s perhaps the only documentary filmmaker who can get away with reenactments. His latest picture tells the story of a chimpanzee named Nim, who was plucked as a baby from his mother and raised like a human child as part of a Columbia University experiment.

With little regard made for his heartbroken mother, or with any foresight as to how this separation would affect him in later years, Nim Chimpsky was put in the care of a hippie family. The matriarch allowed Nim to suckle her breast for milk, while the rest of the clan tried to teach the chimp how to use sign language. In a pattern that would repeat itself no matter whose care he was in, Nim eventually turned violent (as animals are wont to do) and was cast out from his new home.

Marsh introduces us to the key carers in Nim’s life, mostly scientists and animal lovers, each of whom show deep remorse for the way in which they betrayed their subject by treating him … well, by treating him as a subject. It’s a slickly made doco, specifically designed to tug on the heartstrings. I would have liked to have seen how living with a chimp affected the lives of the humans; although we learn how much they love him, as well as how sad they made him, I was curious as to what toll caring for a baby animal (not as a pet, but as a child) would have taken on the carers.

There have been similar experiments in the past, where an infant chimp was raised with a human baby, and the baby began taking on the traits of the chimp instead of the other way around. Regardless, this absence of scientific observation is excised in favour of emotional resonance, and Project Nim has that in spades. For a movie about an ape, it sheds an interesting light on humanity. Animals may be wild, but only humans are cruel.

3.5/5

Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

Project Nim opens in select cinemas across Australia September 29, 2011.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Projeto NIM | Semciência - October 8, 2011

    […] an interesting light on humanity. Animals may be wild, but only humans are cruel. September 8, 2011Full Review  | Comment Simon […]

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