Project Nim

(2011)

Genres: Documentary

Review: Project Nim

Transcript for Review: Project Nim

CHRISTY LEMIRE:
Next up is "Project Nim," which is very much worth seeing. This is the latest film from director James Marsh, who won the Oscar for best documentary for "Man on Wire" in 2009. This time, he turns his attention to a chimpanzee named Nim, who was the subject of a bold experiment in the 1970s. Nim lived with humans as if he were one of them and communicated through sign language.

Clip 1 -- Nim playing with cat

The people who worked with Nim all speak about the bond they formed with him, and how gratifying the research was. You get the sense that their intentions were honorable -- at least, at first.

Clip 2 --Bonding with Nim

But like the experiment itself, "Project Nim" evolves from something inspiring and often humorous to a pointed and deeply sad portrait of arrogance run amok. Greed and glory end up overriding decency and altruism, and it's heartbreaking to watch. "Project Nim" ends on a vaguely uplifting note, but not before shaking you up and making you ponder what humanity is really all about. Thumbs up from me.

IGNATIY VISHNEVETSKY:
Now, this is a talking animal movie. Um, I don’t think I like this quite as much as you do.

CHRISTY:
Okay.

IGNATIY:
I still think this is very strong, and this takes more than a few pages out of the Errol Morris playbook; in the way the interviews are, you know, recorded and the use of…

CHRISTY:
The construction of it.

IGNATIY:
Yeah, the construction and the use of footage, the use of title cards…

CHRISTY:
Reenactments…

IGNATIY:
Reenactments, but I actually like this more than TABLOID, the new Errol Morris movie.

CHRISTY:
Right. Okay.

IGNATIY:
And um, about the reenactments, they’re kind of shot on, you know, this very grainy way that makes them look like they’re from a 70’s thriller. I think they work very well, almost as well as the reenactments in Morris’ own THIN BLUE LINE.

CHRISTY:
Yeah, I have no problem with that either. Um, but is this, it’s heartbreaking, though. That creates suspense. For me it worked mostly because it’s just as a mom to imagine what it’s like to have this little baby creature being shuffled from one person to another to another and just being dumped eventually. It was heartbreaking.

IGNATIY:
I find the character of Herb Terrace…

CHRISTY:
Oh yeah.

IGNATIY:
Who is the head researcher, who really comes across very poorly, but the fact that he reveals this kind of uncaring side of himself so easily in the film, I find that really fascinating.

CHRISTY:
But I don’t think James Marsh is judging him or anybody else here.

IGNATIY:
No…

CHRISTY:
We all get to figure them out for ourselves I believe.

IGNATIY:
Yeah.