IFFBoston Review: Project Nim
Project Nim is the new documentary from acclaimed director James Marsh (Academy Award Winner, Man on Wire). The story follows the life of a chimpanzee from infancy to adulthood teaching the animal to co-exist with humans. It provides a fascinating look into the life of Nim and the difficulties involved in the study.
Herbert Terrace had a theory that chimps could learn to communicate the same way humans are able to. Nim was taken from his mother at birth and given to a human family to raise. Everything about Nim’s upbringing would teach him the same intellect and lifestyle humans develop. Knowing that chimpanzee are unable to make the same syllables needed for the human language they taught Nim sign language. Nim was able to communicate what he wanted and relate to humans in a way no other chimpanzee had before.
Nim was able to win over a lot of researchers hearts during the course of the study. Sadly, things never went as planned. Although Nim was raised as a human, he was a chimp by nature and his power and temper proved dangerous for the study. The project was deemed over, but now Nim would have to live in a world, away from humans, that he had never been in before. I believe the greatest question Project Nim raises is should a creature raised as a human, with the capacity to feel, be treated like an animal?
Project Nim continues James Marsh streak of great documentaries. There is certainly a grey-line here where good and evil are inequitably defined, but I believe the film is all the better for it. Project Nim may not have proved the validity of Herbert Terrace’s theory, but shows the unquantified feeling of the chimpanzee, Nim.
Directed by James Marsh
Starring Bob Angelini, Bern Cohen and Reagan Leonard