Project Nim

Project Nim
Director: James Marsh 
Release Date: 20th January 2011
Rating: 12
BBC Films, Passion Pictures, Red Box Films, Icon Film Distribution 

Nim was a chimp with a pretty crazy life. From birth he was whisked away from his mother and given a human one instead. The objective was to teach the little guy sign language and see if a chimpanzee could construct sentences. A way to communicate with another species is certainly an exciting thought, but Project Nim teaches us what happens when you can’t keep committed to something so important. Things fall apart around you and the one involuntarily thrown into it is the one who suffers most. A documentary on the life of one special chimp. 

From Nim’s birth all the way up to his death this documentary covers the original experiment to what happens after. The project itself I find interesting and the film portrays it as such, seeing Nim live with humans in a human environment is fascinating and watching him respond with sign language shows just how intelligent chimpanzees are. While it is unfair to drag him away from his mother, you get a real sense that Nim is happy and many times displays human actions and emotions. People involved deeply in the project discuss how things progressed, from Nim living with a large family to working with a more focussed group of specialists, and it’s all good. Until Nim starts to grow, as anything does.

As Nim grows he becomes more unruly, more aggressive in his actions. While Nim still wants to interact with his teachers, he also has moments in which he’ll lash out. These moments caused severe damage and fatal injuries and as he grew, the stronger he was becoming. It was at this point that the project was pulled and Nim was sent away to live with other chimps. You’d think the ones who set up the project would be aware this would happen, but seeing as  everyone involved seemed to be peace-loving hippies, maybe they just didn’t think. And thus, Nim’s life stumbles into a dark tunnel with no end in sight.

Animal testing and isolation are what comes next, and the documentary starts to get heavy. There is video footage of each stage in Nim’s life, and it’s saddening to see him suddenly discarded and used as a test subject. We see how some of the old crew who worked with Nim did want to save him, and even a lawyer who wanted Nim to stand in court. A chimp brought up as a human should be treated as such. But of course things wouldn’t work that way, after all Nim is a chimp, a chimp who was brought up with humans then thrown back in with his own kind, everyone expecting him to just adapt. Imagine how mentally confused the guy must be!

The documentary takes no side on if science with animals is right or wrong, but it does make you care for Nim. Everyone seemed to be rooting for him, but then who knows who’s being truthful or not for the cameras. I’m not particularly a  bit fan of chimps, in fact I don’t really like them. But with the old footage running and seeing his life from beginning to end, the emotions were there. I don’t think the project was all that bad, I just think they should have had a more long-term plan for when Nim grew up. You would if it was a human, right?

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