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Project Nim [DVD]

24 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Actors: Herbert Terrace, Bob Ingersoll, Stephanie LaFarge
  • Directors: James Marsh
  • Format: DVD-Video, PAL
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 2 (This DVD may not be viewable outside Europe. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 16:9 - 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Classification: 12
  • Studio: Icon Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: 9 Jan. 2012
  • Run Time: 99 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B005VP820E
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 37,460 in DVD & Blu-ray (See Top 100 in DVD & Blu-ray)

Product Description

Product Description

From the Oscar-winning team behind MAN ON WIRE comes the story of Nim, the chimpanzee who in the 1970s became the focus of a landmark experiment which aimed to show that an ape could learn to communicate with language if raised and nurtured like a human child. Following Nim’s extraordinary journey through human society, and the enduring impact he makes on the people he meets along the way, the film is an unflinching and unsentimental biography of an animal we tried to make human. What we learn about his true nature – and indeed our own – is comic, revealing and profoundly unsettling.


From director James Marsh (Man on Wire), Project Nim is the touching story of Nim Chimpsky, who made headlines in the 1970s as the adorable centre of a fashionably utopian project to teach sign-language to a chimpanzee. Dreamed up by behavioural psychologist and academic dandy Herbert Terrace, Project Nim seemed to conjure up the open-minded spirit of the age until it was derailed by the individual self-interests of its leading members, and Marsh’s documentary is less a study of primate psychology than a work of social anthropology that marks--like Watergate, Vietnam and the rise of the free market--the loss of 1960s idealism and the arrival of the newly self-centred 1970s. Terrace recruits a team of young researchers--overwhelmingly female and attractive--who take confused Nim into their sun-baked New Jersey homes where, between lessons at Columbia University, he enjoys a new-age attitude towards booze, cannabis, nudity and the occasional breastfeed. But with a growing public interest in this mediagenic piece of popular science, Project Nim erupts into a bitter power struggle, fuelled--as Terrace reveals, without so much as a blush--by a series of bracingly unethical sexual relationships. Meanwhile: poor Nim. For all the in-fighting over the central maternal role in his development, Nim ends up simultaneously denatured and unable to live up to the humanity projected onto him. Given a theatrical release in the same week as 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes--another product of the 1970s--Project Nim is a real-world counterpart to that franchise’s satire of our assumption of the central position in nature--and plays with the obvious irony of Ivy League academics getting far more tribal, competitive and libidinous than the chimp they're trying to civilize. By the end of Project Nim, you're unsure which species is aping which. --Leo Batchelor

Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Bob Salter TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 2 Feb. 2012
Format: DVD
********CONTAINS SPOILERS********

"Project Nim" is one of those documentaries that is both deeply fascinating and horrifying at the same time. The manipulative Homo sapiens do not come out of this film in a very good light. In fact by the end you feel a sense of shame for the way in which one chimpanzees innocence was stolen from him at birth. The 70s experiment to locate a baby chimp into a human family to see if it could be taught to communicate by sign language was dreamed up by Columbia Universities Herb Terrace. This esteemed professor seemed more interested in the attractive young women employed on the project rather than the work itself. Baby chimp Nim is cruelly taken from his mother and located to an ex student of Terrace's whom he had also spookily enough had an affair with. But rather than pick a normal family poor old Nim gets to live with a lot of free thinking wacky baccy smoking hippies. This lot would unhinge any normal child let alone an impressionable chimp. Things start to go wrong quickly. We then watch Nim passed from one person to another. One minute he is eating yogurt and granola for breakfast, and the next he is in a cage with the usual chimp zoo diet.

This was one experiment that was doomed from the start. Anyone who watches wildlife documentaries will know that Chimpanzees are incredibly strong and aggressive animals. A bite from one of these can do serious damage, as many a zookeeper has reason to know. Out in the jungle it is a case of kill or be killed! They are not the cuddly little cutesies from the tea adverts! You can take the chimp from the jungle, but you can't take the jungle out of the chimp! Having said all that they are also very intelligent animals, as Nim shows with his rapid development in sign language.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By William Cohen VINE VOICE on 20 May 2012
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
I'll watch any film by James Marsh. I loved Man on Wire, and this film is very similar in structure and style. Fairly quickly you got a sense that it was all going to go horribly wrong. The fact that it happened at all is quite puzzling. It says a lot about 70s hippies and their new but ultimately misguided ideals.

I watched all the extras and got half way through a second viewing. Having gone to boarding school, I could relate to Nim's separation anxiety. I also think the need to assert authority is shared by both humans and chimpanzees.

The footage is extraordinary. I never realised such a thing had ever been tried. James Marsh has told another gripping story which everyone should see.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Charlotte on 16 Nov. 2013
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
I bought this DVD to use as part of an essay I was writing, and it was heart-breaking. They use a wealth of archive footage, along with new interviews, to tell the story of Nim, the chimp taught ASL. I wasn't expecting it to be difficult to watch but it is, and it's stayed with me. Makes you think, makes you laugh, makes you cry at times. The makers haven't glamourised the study at all - frankly it paints a rather stark picture of Professor Terrace, who started the Project.

Watched it thinking I'd get an insight into animal language, which I did - but it perhaps should be marketed as an insight into human nature. Would definitely recommend.
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English screenwriter and director James Marsh`s third documentary feature is inspired by real events in the life of a Chimpanzee named Nim Chimpsky and is an adaptation of a book from 2008 called “Nim Chimpsky: The Chimp Who Would Be Human” by author Elizabeth Hess. It premiered in the World Cinema Documentary Competition section at the 27th Sundance Film Festival in 2011, was shot on locations in America and is a UK production which was produced by English producer Simon Chinn. It tells the story about a primate named Nim Chimpsky who was born in the early 1960s and who in the early 1970s moved in with an American family who were assigned to treat him as humanely as possible and to teach him to communicate with sign language.

Distinctly and precisely directed by English filmmaker James Marsh, this finely paced documentary which is narrated from multiple viewpoints and at times from the main subject`s point of view, draws a profoundly involving and heartrending portrayal of an animal`s interaction with humans during a scientific project and his ability to adapt in an unfamiliar environment. While notable for its reverent cinematography by cinematographer Michael Simmonds, production design by production designer Markus Kirschner, film editing by film editor Jinx Godfrey and use of sound, this character-driven and narrative-driven story about the life of a Chimpanzee and the people he acquainted which underlines the exceptional aspects of cinema and where it exceeds its potential, depicts a perspicaciously humane study of character and contains a great and timely score by composer Dickon Hinchliffe.
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Format: DVD
Though I'd never consider myself to be particularly naive, there was much in the film to be shocked by, not just from what was essentially cast as the villain (the LEMSIP organisation), but from the more liberal anti-establishment hippie types who participated in such a lax, poorly envisioned, morally and ethically neglect, social and psychological experiment (and not even on an orphaned chimp but a kidnapped one).

Of course, methods and standards change with the years and it's often easy to look with scorn and haughty derision at the past, but at the heart of the issue presented, it appears the lack of regulation and naivety/moral ambivalence toward Nim's care was the main flaw of the experiment; not to mention the distinct lack of research and scant knowledge of primates. As a result, the documentary presents an almost absurd but totally true and shocking account of Nim's life, which although filled with much joy and apparent content in a human environment, carries with it the inevitable and almost unbearable melancholy and injustice of an ill-conceived and morally bankrupt experiment.

The personal accounts of those involved reflected the times to an extent, though many carried with them a great love and compassion for Nim, which makes his predicament all the more tragic when some of those people were so powerless to help him. Yet, in the best way a documentary can be, the argument is never one-sided and what is presented is largely a presentation of fact and first-hand accounts, and it is from these accounts we are left to decide who are the heroes and villains of the piece - and there really are heroes and villains. A tragic documentary, for all the right reasons.
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