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The Theory of Nim
sol-8 December 2017
This documentary from James Marsh - director of 'The Theory of Everything' - focuses on another curious chapter in twentieth century science as a baby chimpanzee was raised in a human household in the 1970s with the hope of it learning to communicate. Named Nim Chimpsky (after famed linguist Noam Chomsky), the chimp would go on to learn and use sign language, but as he grew older and scientists became wary of his dangerous strength, Nim would eventually end up abandoned and displaced. Focusing on the cruelty of removing Nim from his mother in the first few minutes, Marsh's agenda is obvious from early on as the film sets out to question ethical responsibilities in scientist research. This agenda becomes even more pronounced in the second half of the movie, however, there is nothing especially enlightening in terms of how inhumane scientific research can be. The first stretch of the film is utterly fascinating though as the scientists wax poetic about communicating with animals and as we see Nim's progress. Misguided as the scientists involved with Nim were, their ideas and goals are intriguing and as a documentary, 'Project Nim' might have played out better with their intentions in focus. Yes, the real story is with the horrors that Nim faced in post-experiment years, but it may have been interesting to learn more about those who were so cavalier with his life.
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awful tale of animal-abuse
clytamnestra25 November 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Whenever we forget how sexist and cruel the '70s were there are stories like this to remind us: a supposedly serious researcher keeps making decisions with his dick and shows zero interest in the emotional well-being of his study-subject. It starts when a kid-chimp is taken from his mother by force. As nothing says 'grow up to be a well-adjusted adult' like being kidnapped from your loving mother. Then the baby is dumped with the professor's ex-girlfriend (she is a woman you see, and he is a man so he cannot possibly take care of a baby). When she turns out to be a child-neglecting hippie (letting her ape- baby smoke weed, not taking any notes of the experiment) he puts the ape with his new teenage girlfriend. SignLanguage-teaching now begins. This set-up doesn't work out either, but luckily there's finally a proper teacher who teaches the poor ape some rudimentary social skills such as to not bite people (the professor dislikes her, presumably because she's more interested in his assistant's dick). Nim-the-talking-ape is by now world-famous, but he's still a wild and physically strong animal (and an heavily abused one at that) so he lashes out and needs to be put in a cage, with other apes. After a difficult start he finds his turn, with a chimp-girlfriend and a relaxed approach to his sign-language-lessons. With his chance of being 'the guy who made an ape into a human' gone the prof makes a 180 as 'the guy who proved that apes are definitely not human'. What little interest he had in Nim as a person completely gone by now. Nim gets screwed over by humanity again when he and his new ape- family are shipped of to nasty drugs-tests. After lots of activism he ends up in a sanctuary where he lives out his remaining years with some ups and downs.
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Tragic Story of (Human) Animal Brutality
Love_Life_Laughter25 October 2014
Nim was raised as a human, breast fed, given clothing, a human family, a house, bed and toys. In this loving environment he naturally developed a facility for language, was toilet trained, learning dozens of sign language words, and the ability to make sentences. He formed lasting friendships with some student teachers that tried throughout their lives, with the limited power they had, to protect him. Once grown, as part of a natural adolescence that included a period of danger to his teachers as he learned his own strength and looked for a mate, he was relegated to dirty cages, and had a near escape from the animal laboratories of nightmares in which conscious live chimps are immobilized in painful brain experiments. The emotional brutality shown towards Nim, particularly by Columbia Professor Hubert Terrace, is breathtaking. Terrace's propensity to sleep with Nim's female caretakers and act out rather strange family dynamics - first with a former lover who just married someone else, and later with the "next hot new thing" - could keep Freud busy for a long time. The most human character in the movie- loving, caring, expressive, communicative, and playful - was, ironically, Nim. I'm ashamed to be part of a culture that treated such a precious soul to such cruelty over so many years. The twisted power structures that enabled men like Terrace to use Nim as a tool to seek fame, and discard him without a thought like his student amours, rankle to the core. Late in his life, Nim kept trying to escape his cold cage to the house on the property - where he still felt he belonged. One wonders what Jane Goodall would think of our brutality towards Nim. I will never forget the interview in which his loving caretaker brought him to the brutal cages where he was met with a cattle prod by yet another heartless professor. I would like to put the cattle prod right back on him. Nim, on behalf of all feeling human beings, I'm sorry.
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A Full Life: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
dallasryan9 July 2014
Warning: Spoilers
As in White Oleander, Alison Lohman's character goes through many obstactles going from foster home to foster home to institution to wherever the journey may take her character, and in a lot of ways, Nim is like Lohman's character. Nim lives a full life of ups and downs being taken away from his mother, going to one home, then another, then getting tested on for experiments, to going to a ranch. It is a rough and full life for Nim.

With that full life though, there is heartache that goes out to Nim from us, the viewer, at the same time there is a special connection with Nim too, knowing he is smart, special and we can really identify with him, not only with compassion, but with empathy on a human level, as Nim goes through the gamut of what us humans go through. He goes through anger, sadness, depression, happiness, resentment, friendships, love, hate, etc. And you cry out for Nim because you've been there.

When his his first human mother came back to visit him and got in the cage with him to where Nim almost killed her, it can be said that maybe Nim forgot who she was and that was just the chimp coming out in him. But who knows, maybe Nim did know who she was and hated her with much resentment for leaving him and for all the pain and suffering he's been through since then to only come back as if all was well, and he was going to show her not all was well. Who knows.

I think the experiment proved that you can treat chimps just like human beings as was the case from beginning to the end of Nim's life. I think Dr. Terrace was wrong, Nim was communicating, he understood the words to what he was feeling, and that's communication. So what if Nim didn't use complete sentences. Maybe those are complete sentences to a chimp or perhaps Nim just wasn't taught correctly to use complete sentences. Chimps still have their animal and natural innate instincts as all creatures on this planet do, and that was proved as well.

But the project proved true to where Nim was more than just an animal friend, he was our friend as a wonderful animal of course, but also as a sort of human being as well. He was our friend on multiple levels. Dr. Terrace got it wrong. Nim was human on many levels more than any chimp, and that's also what led to more of Nim's suffering too, being human.
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If ever there was a reason to end Humanity
victornunnally15 May 2014
The first ten minutes of this painful documentary goes beyond any justice. The scientists involved in this corrupt and mindless experiment should be tried by a court of law for intentional cruelty and torture. If my tax dollars paid for this experiment then our government is corrupt with eyes wide shut. A Mother is systematically tortured by having 6 two week old infants chimps taken from her. The 6th being the title character. What was gained here was pure psychopathy. There was no need for this experiment except for vain exploration. This film gives every reason why science needs regulations. However, since this is not going to happen then will someone please point to the red button so I can give it a huge push. This is perhaps the most horrifying film I have ever seen. What were these scientist hoping to accomplish; to raise a chimp to be human? For what purpose? To serve humans? To be slaves? To fill a void? We have to be a mutation in the gravest form. I want these scientists prosecuted.
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"Distinctly communicative, harmonically photographic..."
Sindre Kaspersen4 May 2014
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.

This informatively biographical, distinguishably sociological and densely historic though present retelling of real events which is set in the United States in the late 20th century and where the distinctions and similarities between human beings and chimpanzees becomes as apparent as the ricochet consequences of attempting to integrate and humanize an innate non-conformist, is impelled and reinforced by its cogent narrative structure, substantial character development, rhythmic continuity, use of archive footage and the narration of the interviewees' as a narrative device, the introduction of a man named Bob Ingersoll and the many charming, humorous, unsettling and genuinely gripping scenes of the socially adept Nim whose graceful presence lingers and affirms the right of animals to be treated with humanity. A distinctly communicative, harmonically photographic and admirable work of art.
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Thanks for nothing.
The_Film_Cricket4 April 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Where does a chimpanzee fit in the scheme of nature in relation to human beings? If you'll pardon me a crude analogy: If the evolutionary chain were a movie theater and humans occupy the front row, primates might place two rows behind us. We are a tiny fraction away from having the same DNA and when we look at them we can see that they are, basically, a savage version of what we use to be. Yet, in their eyes you can see that their thinking patterns must match ours in some fashion. What that fashion is exactly remains one of the great unsolved mysteries. What can they learn? Can they learn the way humans can? Are they communicating on our scale? Can they be taught from a young age and adapt just like a human child? These questions were the focal point of a now-legendary experiment begun in 1973 and headed by a Columbia psychology professor named Herbert Terrace to see if an infant Chimpanzee could be raised in a normal human household and could be taught to communicate. The chimp was forcibly taken from his mother mere days after birth and given the name Nim Chimpsky (we learn the heartbreaking fact that this was the sixth child that this particular mother has had taken away and we see her in silhouette mourning the loss). Nim first lived in a brownstone in Manhatten with a married couple and their children. He wore clothes, he played with the pets; his human mother let him drink beer and smoke pot (this was the early 70s). She even breast-fed him. Most importantly, he was taught functional amounts of sign language. Nim's education in sign language was at the core of the project, even though one of the family members curiously points out that no one in the family was actually fluent in sign language to begin with.

The documentary Project Nim follows the progress of that experiment in reenactments and still photographs, but mostly through eyewitness testimony from the researchers who spent time working with Nim during the project. Some of the footage that we see might fit right in on a television sitcom or one of those shows from the 60s like "Daktari" or "Gentle Ben". We see little Nim rolling around on the floor playing with the kids, the dog and then the cat. It is all very cute, but one can't watch the footage and not be concerned. Nim, after all, an animal with violent tendencies.

Nim, through his training, seems perfectly happy, which is ironic when you compare him with some of the humans that are caring for him. Many of whom seem to have deep personality flaws. Dr. Terrace seems to evoke the quality of an father who raises a child from a distance, and the research assistants, Stephanie and Laura-Ann Petitto seem willing to forgive some of Nim's more aggressive tendencies and outbursts as he approaches maturity.

What becomes abundantly clear as Nim grows is something that Terrace doesn't seem to have considered: Chimps are cute and cuddly as babies, but as adults they are unmanageable. They don't know their own strength which is five times that of a human. We see talking-head interviews with many of the key participants in the experiment who show us scars from having been attacked and bitten by Nim during their time with him. One, in particular, was the most loving of all of Nim's parents and received a nasty bite through her cheek, not during a moment of violence but seemingly out of the clear blue sky.

I don't know if it was the intention of James Marsh, the director, but humankind isn't presented well at all in this movie. Nim is only a product of his circumstances - pulled away from his mother to spend the first half of his life in the spotlight, but when that spotlight is gone, what then? He's like a flavor-of-the-month celebrity who's light faded and everyone moved on to something else. So, knowing what we know about primate behavior, we kind of sense where the movie is going. Nim, through his work with the researchers eventually learned some 150 words of sign language and proved that a chimp could be taught. However, as Nim grows he becomes more aggressive and his wilder nature takes over and the story takes a turn that is achingly sad. He can't live with humans because he's too aggressive. He can't live with other chimps because he's been raised in the manner of a human being. Nim's contribution to scientific research has been incredible, but rather than being celebrated, he was shut away for the rest of his life and more or less forgotten. Thanks for nothing.
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Incredibly depressing
Leofwine_draca5 February 2014
Ostensibly a documentary about the world's most famous chimpanzee, who was taught to communicate with humans via sign language during a university experiment of the 1970s, PROJECT NIM is in fact about human failings. It's another nature-themed documentary that, along with the likes of BLACKFISH and THE COVE, makes you despair for mankind.

The story starts out well, with the impossibly cute baby chimp brought up as a human. Soon, though, the behaviour of some of the "scientists" looking after Nim begins to grate; some of them are a little too involved with their subject, while others are plain creepy. Later, Nim suffers a huge betrayal, and at this point the documentary takes a downward turn into one of the most depressing ever.

Hardly a heartwarming story then, in that it focuses on misery and despair for the majority of the running time, but nevertheless an important story that serves to highlight man's inhumanity towards the world he inhabits.
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fascinating insightful
SnoopyStyle23 September 2013
This James Marsh (Man on Wire) documentary examines the life of Nim Chimpsky who was raised in 70s as an experiment to show chimps can think like man. They taught him to sign, and raised him as a child with a human family. At first, it's hailed as a success. But he soon became too powerful to handle and more and more he is institutionalized. The professor finally ends the experiment sending Nim to a medical research facility. The film interviews all those people who interacted with Nim.

Sure it has a fascinating subject in the chimp Nim, but the more fascinating subjects are the humans who inhabit his life. From the professor who never saw Nim as any more than a subject. To the family who yearn to reconnect with him. And finally people who would rescue him from isolation. The camera really turns away from the animal back to all of us as a species.
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Must see - for the sake of humanity
p-stepien21 May 2013
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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Boring and depressing
Roedy Green31 March 2013
From the DVD cover (not the one shown at IMDb), I thought NIM was a horror film, probably about an Ebola outbreak in the Congo. During the first ten minutes of the film, I thought it was fiction, masquerading as a documentary with film footage from the 70s narrated by the same people 30 years later. Then I realised it was indeed a actual documentary. It mostly about the people around Nim the chimp and their petty interactions and petty and self-serving justifications for their behaviour. It is also about their strange attempt to raise a chimpanzee in isolation as a human child with middle class American values in sterile rooms made of cement blocks. They seemed shocked when Nim grew up and ceased to be compliant. Surely they had seen that happen thousands of times before. This film some day will be used to illustrate human cruelty, folly and self-deception.
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An engaging and powerful film.
huwdj28 March 2013
This is the true story of what happened when a baby chimp, Nim, it taken from his mother and placed with a human family. He is taught sign language by a series of carers before becoming too big and dangerous around the age of 5 at which time he is returned to the ranch he was taken from.

There is a huge amount going on in this documentary as the carers over the years are interviewed with footage from the time. What emerges will probably anger and sadden most viewers. Though I felt that Nim's carers genuinely bonded with him what emerges is a largely a tale of careless cruelty.

Equally interesting and perhaps the root cause of what happens later is the relationships between the humans. Particularly between the project leader Professor Herbert Terrance and the numerous attractive research assistants. There are several references to the power he held and exercised. Overall it has to be said he does not emerge from this film as either likable or particularly competent.

The various approaches of the teachers and carers differ so widely and even though there is much happy footage you have to wonder at the effect this had on Nim. I was left with the feeling that he eventually responded best to the people who recognised him as a chimp but still treated him as a companion within the limits this imposed.

This is a powerful film that should be shown as widely as possible and would probably be good thing to included in school curricular.
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What has long, sharp fangs, wears diapers and lives on the Upper West Side?
The_late_Buddy_Ryan8 February 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Compared to such superstars of animal linguistics as Alex the talking parrot and Koko the signing gorilla, the late Nim Chimpsky (1973–2000) was very much a lesser light. All the same, his eventful early life has provided filmmaker James Marsh with the material for a fine documentary, as intense and involving as a first-rate fiction film; this one plays like it might have been scripted by Arthur C. Clarke (from a first draft by J.D. Salinger) and directed by Herzog ("Kaspar Hauser") or Truffaut ("Wild Child"). The story begins when Columbia psychologist Herb Terrace prevailed on a colleague (and ex-girlfriend), Stephanie LaFarge, to add a chimp to her already blended family of two adults, seven children and a German shepherd, raise him like a human child (which would include breast feeding) and teach him American Sign Language; the goal was to test Noam Chomsky's well known hypothesis that only the human brain could generate grammatical speech.

Nim Chimpsky (get it?) spent a year or two in the loosey-goosey LaFarge household on the Upper West Side—my wife used to see him stumping around the 'hood in diapers with his overprotective minders—then, when it appeared that his sign language skills were being neglected, he was sequestered with Terrace's assistant in a disused mansion in the Bronx and brought down to Columbia for classroom catchup sessions. By this time, he had grown into an unruly adolescent with long, sharp fangs, a short attention span and the strength of many men. When he attacked one of his sign-language tutors and tore her cheek open, Terrace shut the project down, and Nim was banished to the primate research center in Oklahoma where he was born. Terrace added insult to this act of treachery by publishing a book in which he portrayed Nim as a "brilliant beggar" who mimicked his teachers to get rewards—hugs, snacks and the occasional puff on a joint. Except for supervised outings (and a few brief escape attempts), Nim spent the rest of his life behind bars.

Since Nim was both an experimental subject and, at least for a few years, a chimp célèbre in his own right, Marsh had plenty of video clips to choose from; only purists will object to a couple of Errol Morris–style reenactments, and the interviews with the participants, thirty-odd years later, are fascinating. Terrace, especially as seen in the archival footage with his slicked-down comb-over and caterpillar mustache, makes a fine comic villain; his self-serving shiftiness contrasts amusingly with Nim's innocent seductions. We can empathize with Terrace's former assistant, Laura Pettito (now apparently a well known neuroscientist, though it isn't mentioned in the film), as she recalls how a brief, much-regretted affair with her boss compelled her to quit the project. Stephanie LaFarge comes across as a good-hearted, spacey 70s mom, the kind of character Dianne Wiest used to play; standouts among the supporting cast include Joyce Butler, a strong-minded alpha female who discouraged Nim from biting (biting her at any rate) by nipping him on the ear; and Bob Ingersoll, an affable Deadhead at the Oklahoma center who became Nim's BF and protector in his later years. The film wisely sidesteps the whole Chimpsky-Chomsky debate about animal communication, a debate that continues to sputter only because the Chomskyites keep moving the goalposts; I think most viewers would agree with something Bob Ingersoll said in an interview (don't think it's in the film) to the effect that the difference between Nim's signing "Stone smoke now!" and anyone else's saying "Dude, let's spark up a fatty!" is pretty much academic.
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Worst movie ever!
audrey-569-26194231 December 2012
I can not believe that anyone could say this was a great movie. What they did to Nim was horrible, and they proved absolutely nothing as far as I could see. If they wanted to show you how to ruin an animal's life it would get a 10 out of 10.

Once they were done using him they abandon him to bared cages and chores. I'm still not sure what they expected making the movie, other than to confirm humans are the animals, and not the superior race at all.

So they made money on a book, on a movie and the only really important cost was only a chimps life, and least we not forget giving him pot and alcohol.

Awesome job guys!
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Bipeds behaving badly: Man's inherent inhumanity...
poe42622 May 2012
Warning: Spoilers
In Walter Hill's GENOCIDE 101 (GERONIMO), several Apache turncoats learn that trusting The White Man can backfire on you: they, too, are rounded up, disarmed, and sent to the concentration camps whose blueprints the Nazis would one day study. In PROJECT NIM, a handful of scientists- whose primary concerns seem to have been getting laid- kidnap and "indoctrinate" an innocent child (because ALL animals are innocent children) before abandoning him. Proof: Terrace actually went on camera and declared his own research an abject failure- and he was WRONG. (The fact that this guy threw in the towel when the supply of nubile young assistants dried up was just coincidence, right? And the fact that he was unable to see proof sitting right before his eyes was just myopia, right? My hairy ***...) In an age when we can literally kick the mentally ill and the physically infirm to the curb in this country, the inherent inhumanity these people display isn't at all surprising. The lowest of the Low would have to be the Mengele of the animal research facility, a murderer named Mahoney who wistfully says that "chimps are forgiving. They'll forgive you." Oh yeah? On what planet? Only Bob Ingersoll has the right to go to sleep knowing that he at least TRIED to make Nim's life livable. Forgiveness? ****, some of these people didn't even acknowledge that Nim could OUTSMART them.
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Professor's loins, ego , and outated Skinnarian outllook prove the undoing of Nim
Susan2 April 2012
Warning: Spoilers
To me, as a linguist, the ill-conceived professional designs of Columbia University professor Herbert Terrace kept getting more and more diabolical as the film progressed...and no one stopped him!

As a humanist, I was appalled at Professor Terrace's misguided views of mankind; his on-going affairs with his female students; and his continuous disavowals of any responsibility of any part of anything at all ...except for publicity, of course.

And, as a resident of NYC, I am astonished at the fact that he still teaches his outmoded doctrine of animal-behavioral studies ideas (based on the long-refuted BF Skinner) at Columbia University--(and, BTW, is rated by his students in the same manner as I am writing about him here).

My helplessness to do anything about Nim has been echoed by other reviewers–so I won't cry any more literary tears for that poor animal--except to thank Bob Ingersoll for his dedication and caring spirit.

Anyone who has read Kune knows that scholars ought not to keep beating one scientific approach for their whole lives (e.g. Skinner), but to see their discipline through as many approaches as will move that discipline along. Alas, Terrance appears to be the worst kind of professor, who viewed his discipline though only one poor lens, and did so with no one monitoring him.

And, after viewing this film, I'm even more glad now that I chose to get my Linguistics Ph.D. at NYU and not Columbia, so many years ago.)

The film itself was nearly perfect. It operated with less fuss than most and just tried to allow the story to shine though.
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Ignore this film.
jaydavidof28 March 2012
This is a movie about a balding professor, played by a certain 'Bern Cohen', who starts a 'science project' to find out whether one can teach a chimpanzee how to communicate in human (sign) language, and if so what the animal would be saying.

Based on a true story.

He (the professor that is) apparently glued his remaining hair over the top of his skull and set out to separate a chimpanzee-baby from its mother. Meanwhile we are told that it is actually the sixth time this mother gets separated from a new-born baby.

The chimpanzee baby is placed in a family with 6 children who must all treat the little animal in the same manner one would treat a human baby. This family is described as bunch of hippies living in a 'loose atmosphere'. Apparently its not to the chimp's liking, and after it bites the mother-hippie one time too many, it gets transferred from one new environment to the next.

Meanwhile we learn that the professor has found a junior-researcher called laura, with whom he briefly has a relationship. When the professor ends this relationship, the junior-researcher quits the project. This is very upsetting for our baby-chimp as it was just starting to accept laura as its new mother.

Now we see how the chimp is allowed to drink alcohol, and how it is taught to smoke pot and hash. This was the point where I forwarded the movie to the very end, where I was told that chimpanzees are really wonderful animals.

From my perspective, was the US not such a completely screwed-up country with a vast majority of screwed up people, I would notify the authorities of this misadventure in the hope to stop this professor maniac and his not-so-hippie clan to ever come up with anything like this again.
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Punish the Professor
mpmckaykd15 March 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I am both saddened and angered by the entire experiment. The Nim's mother gets her baby taken six times! You would think that the reaction of her not wanting to give up her baby would make you think "How would I feel if I had my 2 week old baby taken from me?" and then that Nim learned all those signs and had all that fun, but got too big to handle so you just pass him off and to different people making him think that he is like a human then cast away. I am sad for Nim's mom and Nim for the chance of a happy CHIMP life, the way it should have been because he's a CHIMP. The Professor should be fined and have his accreditations be taken away for the stupidity and the "playing god" like act.

I like the Documentary for informing me of this cruel act and how it was done, but hate that the experiment happened.
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Proves that humans are the real animals
valleyjohn4 March 2012
PROJECT NIM 6 out of 10 This the the story of Nim , a chimpanzee who was taken away from his mother at birth and as part of an experiment , put with a human family to see how would act with learning to sign and living without his own kind. The problem is that the incompetent people in charge of the project cared nothing of Nim and therefore his life was ultimately a really bad one.

Herbert Terrace , the head of the project , comes out of this really badly. Not only was he pervert who slept with the young girls who worked with him ( god knows what they saw in him) he also didn't care what happened to Nim. A nasty little man that should be ashamed of himself.

The documentary has lots of archive footage of Nim and the many people who worked with him but it still did not have the affect on me that it obviously did on others. Perhaps it's because i didn't really feel for the ape. It bit too many people to feel much sympathy with him.

This documentary is described on the poster as Great , Powerful and breathtaking .Sadly, It was none of these.
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Compelling of the best films of any kind in 2011
asc8519 February 2012
Warning: Spoilers
As someone who didn't care for "Man on Wire," this director's previous film, and as someone who thinks critical response is often over-rated for documentaries, I was pleasantly surprised by "Project Nim." I thought it was the best documentary of 2011, and my wife thought it was the best film of 2011. This movie was extremely compelling from the start, and very moving throughout. I also thought it was interesting that what was "acceptable" science in the 70's has evolved into something that we look back on as something inhumane. What a difference 40 years makes! And the doctor who ran the study? What a jerk, not just in the callousness he displayed in his Nim experiment, but in the lack of ethics he had in sleeping with his students.
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Companion (piece)
kosmasp23 January 2012
The movie works really good with the new Planet of the Apes (or the Planet of the Apes movie series). It'd be a great double bill. Despite (or due to?) the fact that it is a documentary, there are quite a few similarities here, that you might find eerie. Apart from that this is a human story... sorry I mean an Ape story of course!

The story that unfolds, is very engaging and might leave you with strong feelings. That is if you have a heart for animals. Though I guess if you can't stand them, than those are strong feelings too. But then you shouldn't watch it. Stay with the discovery channel or something like that. This one tells a story that is as intriguing as a feature film. I went through a few emotions until the end ... And was left with mixed feelings ... which is a good thing!
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Project Nim isn't up to par with other recent documentaries
estebangonzalez1019 January 2012
¨I thought wouldn't it be exciting to communicate with a chimp and find out what it was thinking.¨ Director James Marsh won an Oscar for his brilliant documentary, Man on Wire, which told the story of French tightrope walker Phillippe Petit who performed his routine across the Twin Towers in New York City. That film was very suspenseful and really hooked my attention. Project Nim, is also directed by Marsh, but it doesn't have the same suspense that that film had. Man on Wire kept me interested in how Petit was able to achieve his goal, he was a very charismatic figure, and on the other hand Project Nim was kind of slow paced and didn't have any interesting characters rather than the Chimp himself. Nim (the name of the chimp) is fun to watch on screen, but it didn't work as a full length documentary for me. The story does raise several questions about how inhumane we can be at times and how our ¨scientific projects¨ have interfered in many animals lives. Questions which I already was familiar with, so this movie really didn't surprise me one bit, like say The Cove did with the slaughtering of the dolphins in Japan. That was a much more effective and eye-opening documentary. Project Nim is a well made documentary, but it really falls short compared to last year's great ones such as Inside Job, Restrepo, and Exit Through the Gift Shop. I haven't been able to watch many documentaries this year, but I heard this was on many critics' favorite lists so I went ahead and checked it out, but felt a bit disappointed with it. The bar has already been raised high for these movies (and Marsh himself is responsible for this after his excellent Man on Wire) so I really can't recommend this one as highly as I would've like too.

Hebert Terrace was a professor at Columbia University during the 70's when he came up with the idea of trying to teach a chimpanzee how to communicate like a human being. Considering human and chimp DNA is very similar he believed that it could be possible for a chimp to communicate what he was thinking if he was raised in a normal human environment. So Terrace chose a newborn chimp, separated it from his mother, named it Nim, and gave him to a human family which would be in charge of nurturing and taking care of it as if it were a normal human being. Terrace chose Stephanie Lafarge and her family to raise the animal. It was the seventies, the hippy movement, and her family was pretty much very liberal. They had no idea of how to raise the chimp and they practically let it run around everywhere. The monkey spend the first years with that family, until Terrace decided to move him to a bigger home with more experienced professors who could teach Nim how to communicate better. Nim learned several sign languages and was taught at first by Laura-Ann Petitto, but as the chimp grew up he became more dangerous. He never lost his animals instincts although he did make some progress in communication. After five years Terrace decided to end the project as he felt the research wasn't going anywhere, and Nim was sent back to a chimp refugee where he spent most of the time locked up in cages although he felt most attached to Bob Ingersoll who continued the communication process with the animal and spent time playing with it in the wild. The documentary continues to track Nim's life until his death.

The scientific project really resulted in being inhumane for the chimp because despite making some progress he never really adapted well when he was taken back with the rest of the chimps. He had been raised as a human for so long that after the project ended, Nim continued suffering the exploitations he went through. There were many people who helped Nim and really cared for him, but at the same time the entire experiment resulted in being a negative thing for the chimp. Project Nim never tries to be preachy or tell us what to do, it simply points out the facts. Marsh interviews everyone that was a part of Nim's life and shows a lot of footage that was used during the investigation. The documentary is really interesting on paper, but I really felt it dragged for some while and wasn't as entertaining as other recent documentaries. Marsh is a great director and he has great ideas, but I don't think this film really deserves an Oscar nomination. It's still a good film and if you're interested in animal behavior you might enjoy this a little more than I did. I'm more into sports and preferred the Uruguayan documentary Manyas much more, which dealt with the soccer fanatics and the way they felt for their team.
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A project to produce a linguistically capable chimp instead produces an ironic view of humanity
icecubeburn17 January 2012
OK, so the idea going in to this film is we take a a baby chimp and test the nature versus nurture theory. Trying to see if we can "correct" their deficiency in human communication, if you will...

What instead results is indeed a spectacle to witness. Nim is indeed a remarkable chimp who was sadly the victim of human inexperience with supplying the type of care he needed and deserved. What we learn is not what a chimpanzee is lacking, but what humanity is.

I suggest watching the film with a mind towards what Nim himself must be thinking as you see his life unfold. Nim lives a chimpanzee's analog to a human life, but for a chimp, it is utterly horrifying to watch. But like any life, there are more lighthearted moments as well, such as Nim and his friend Bob with their "Stone." "Smoke." "Now." time together, which actually seemed to be Nim's best time with any humans.

All in all, this documentary of Nim's life serves as a reminder that mother nature made chimpanzees and humans their own devices for communicating and living separately. The two cannot co-exist peacefully within one habitat due to the gap in strength and cognitive intelligence. However this one chimp, Nim, came remarkably close to peaceful co-habitation and viable communication with humans and his cost for such was great.
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Compare to Rise of the Planet of the Apes
sfdphd15 January 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I saw Project Nim right after seeing Rise of the Planet of the Apes and the similarities are startling. Nim and Caesar are both taken from their mothers at birth, raised in human families until they get to be too aggressive, and then put into primate shelters and medical research facilities. The difference is that Caesar leads an uprising of the apes and poor Nim is left in a cage until he dies.

Most of the humans in both films come off as abusive and/or ignorant of what they have done to the chimps. One or two in each film tries to do the right thing but is thwarted by the other humans. As a psychologist, I was personally appalled by the behavior of the psychologists in the film. They should have known better than to remove an infant from its mother and try to raise it within the family of another species. That's insane! Colleagues at the university should have rejected any application for funding of such research. The license of the psychologist in the film should be revoked. He not only traumatized Nim for his own purposes but also hired incompetent and inexperienced assistants to whom he was sexually attracted. It was the 1970's but that is no excuse.

I believe that there actually was some interesting research data about the chimp's use of language that the psychologist dismisses. So in my eyes, he fails on an intellectually professional level as well as an ethical one.

Both films are sad commentaries on the human race and the chimps seem like the better species. Would be an interesting double bill to have the fantasy feature film and the documentary shown together.
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Great movie - sad people...
jaquesminnaar11 January 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Great documentary.

I have been looking forward to watching this documentary for a while and expected a feel-good "human and primate interaction" story.

This is nothing like that at all and is quite disturbing and sad. After watching this movie I ended up hating the human participants involved in the life of Nim so much that it (almost) spoiled the whole movie experience for me.

You have a bunch of self righteous hippy (pseudo) scientists participating in a "cool" new experiment with no thought about the consequences to the animal involved.

One feels sad after watching Project Nim and I personally wished for a dreadful/sad ending to the pathetic Stephanie La Farge and "prof" Herb Terrace while watching this (never happened) - Stephanie (who initially raised Nim) seemed more interested in having intercourse with poor NIM than anything else...!

Great movie - sad people.
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