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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. Written by
A great and detailed recollection of the life of Nim Chimpsky, the famed chimpanzee, who was brought up amongst humans and taught sign language in order to assess the cognitive abilities of primates as well as to research into the evolution of man. Shown through the use of talking heads, vast archive footage and some very well made reenactments, "Project Nim" breathes life into the Nim in ways, which would be impossible to achieve through a normal narrative feature.
Ripped from his biological mother just weeks after birth (in the first tear-jerking scene, where the chimpanzee attempts to protect her infant from the inevitable separation), Nim initiates his life as a 'project'. The movie title rightly classifies him as such, as the animal's life is severely stigmatised by the fact, that almost no-one in his tragic life treated him as anything other than a objectified research tool, instead of what he really was: a complex, multi-layered animal with warmth, feelings and - also - layers of anger and resentment. Nim functions within the confines of human cruelty and lack of empathy, first stolen from his true mother, than abruptly taken away from his surrogate mother (when the 'experiment' is deemed to be going awry). This detachment from a loving environment brings him into hasty changes in relations between him and his human 'teachers' or caretakers. The project continues in a vast country villa, where Nim is cared for inasmuch as he serves his purpose as a subject of research: long hours spent in closed surroundings while being taught sign language and 'proper behaviour'.
When Nim's aggressive behaviours increase the project is terminated, thus again throwing Nim into a new home, this time with the company of chimpanzees and - thankfully - the only human being who can truly be called his friend: Bob Ingersoll. Despite various turns for the worse in Nim's life, Bob was the only human being never to leave him, saving him from a research facility and having his immense role in offering Nim the best possible conditions for living out the rest of his tragic life.
"Project Nim" attempts to detach itself from overly creating the narrative, instead letting the people involved in the experiment speak for themselves. And they do so with devastating effect - one by one presenting themselves in extremely negative light, especially prof. Herbert Terrace coming off as a terrible research-crazed individual lacking empathy to understand the extent of harm he caused on Nim. Despite the project's intention to bring up Nim as a human being, the chimpanzee is ripped away from two mothers, but never once is his aggressive behaviour attributed to his dysfunctional upbringing - with no mother, no caring family and a growing sense of abandonment. Non-surprisingly Bob Ingersoll, the only person to remain true towards Nim, was the sole interviewee never to complain about Nim's 'animal' side. Much as a small child who bashes out in mindless anger, there is always a reason behind such actions. However no-one from the research crew even thought about taking this into account, instead blaming it on the 'brute animal' hidden inside Nim.
Director James Marsh presents a heart-wrenching and damning insight into the concept of humanity, questioning whether the meaning of the words 'humane' and 'inhumane' are wrongly attributed and a reversal seems to be in order. Given the majority of people involved in Nim's life were destructive, inconsiderate and with the loyalty of a fly, it would seem more suited that Nim's only true friend Bob Ingersoll be called inhumane - the only person who did not act like a typical human being. Up yours humanity!
Required viewing for the betterment of our human nature. And hopefully for the betterment of the fate of animals world-wide. Should be required viewing in every school everywhere.
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