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Project Nim [DVD]
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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
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Top Customer Reviews
"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.Read more ›
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.
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.Read more ›
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Everyone should watch this movie. I'm so happy my kids were able to watch this.Published 12 months ago by Katrina W. Pleshe
bought as a gift for a monkey enthusiast! a good film.Published 19 months ago by Amy Louise Phillips
I would have liked to see more comment from experts outside the project on whether Nim's communication can be considered as language.Published 22 months ago by Donal Campbell
Came as description. This film is heartbreaking but really interesting. Would definitely recommend.Published 23 months ago by Becky