Project Nim began as an experiment where a newborn chimpanzee was taken from its mother and raised by a human family; teaching Nim sign language would prove that “language”, as defined by Noam Chomsky, is not inherent only in humans. Nim learned 125 signs, but results of the study are disputed – and this film focuses on the tragedy of the whole experience, as the ape was eventually taken to research labs and used for medical experiments. Director James Marsh takes the same approach as he did with Man on Wire (2008); actual footage of Nim mixes with very clever re-enactments and compelling interviews with the people who raised Nim and made a difference in his life… for better or worse, such as his “mom” who was severely punished by him.
2011-Britain. 93 min. Color-B/W. Produced by Simon Chinn. Directed by James Marsh.
Last word: “I really wanted to understand what a chimpanzee was like, what this particular chimpanzee was like. Therefore, one couldn’t shy away from the behavior that isn’t particularly reassuring or comforting to us. And so Nim is able, and does indeed, bully and attack human beings that he seems to quite like. And it’s very important that we show that. If I didn’t show that then I wouldn’t be true to what happened. And not only that. He also is very sweet and tender and can be very affectionate. But his nature is such that he can’t help but be the way he is. And it would’ve been wrong to make a sanitized view of that creature. It wouldn’t be true to him or, indeed, the story itself.” (Marsh, Filmmaker Magazine)