A documentary charting the efforts of scientist Herbert Terrace and his team as they attempt to disprove Noam Chomsky’s theory that only humans are capable of learning and understanding language – by teaching a baby chimpanzee sign language…
Following up his Oscar-winning Man On Wire, British director James Marsh offers us another fascinating, seventies-set documentary with Project Nim. Again, Marsh infuses a well-chosen mix of contemporary talking heads, archival footage and dramatic recreations with occasional bursts of style, proving himself to be something of a master in the field of documentary filmmaking. While previously Marsh followed a charismatic Frenchman who spent 45 minutes walking between the Twin Towers on a tight-rope, here the extraordinary true-life story revolves around a chimpanzee being taught sign language and raised as a regular baby (his first ‘mother’ even breastfed him!).
But while the early stages detail Nim as an adorable chimp who’s all about cuddling and learning, eventually the movie veers into darker territory as his animalistic urges inevitably kick in. Going from hugging cats to trying to hump them, his primal instincts blossom with occasionally ferocious results, leading Nim (or, to use his full pun-tastic name, Nim Chimpsky) to be moved from his cosy academic existence into a surprisingly primitive animal facility. As such, what starts as a cute and breezy experiment morphs into a heartbreaking indictment of scientific practices and animal cruelty. Regardless though, it remains engrossing throughout.
Following up his Oscar-winning Man On Wire, British director James offers us another fascinating, seventies-set documentary.