I saw Project Nim last night, which I had heard a lot about. It kept coming up in many top ten documentary lists this year and it didn’t disappoint. It’s a fascinating look into the 1970’s experiment where they tried to raise a chimp as a human and see if they could teach it sign language.
There were quite a lot of cute parts with baby monkeys doing baby monkey things. But then when baby monkeys grow up, they start doing things that make you realize they’re a wild animal. They’ll lash out and bite you or wreck your home. That’s kind of what happened and little Nim Chimpsky got moved from home to home with different teachers who all claimed they could do it better. What resulted was a confused chimp who was really being unfairly raised outside of his natural environment. He couldn’t really “be” a monkey like he should be.
Whether you’re an animal rights activist or not, you’ll see how incompetent some of these people really were. And the professor who started the project seemed to be more interested in his own esteem and getting with all his female teachers! Kind of whack if you ask me.
But then a guy named Bob Ingersoll came in who actually seemed to respect the fact that Nim was a monkey and treated him as such. Eventually though he got taken back to the laboratory and locked in a cage with other chimps. He was scared and didn’t know how to act around them. That part of the movie got really sad.
I don’t need to go into more detail, but it was definitely a fascinating movie. Directed by James Marsh who did Man on Wire and I’ve heard referred to as the “British Errol Morris” due to his more cinematic documentary style. Project Nim was awesome.