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4.4 out of 5 stars
Project Nim
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47 of 52 people found the following review helpful
on December 28, 2011
Format: DVD
I remember the first time I held a chimp's hand. The first touch between human and ape fingers establishes a connection, and you never forget the soft leathery feel of a chimpanzee's palm. What should be an ordinary sensation is not. It is unforgettable and forever.

The problem arises when the chimp-human connection becomes subject to human arrogance, sometimes cloaked in love, other times defined by science, and often supported by stupidity.

Project Nim is the true story of a chimpanzee who was taken from his mother to participate in a 1970s university research project on communications. The movie has all three components: love, science, and stupidity, all adding up to a level of human arrogance that is almost incomprehensible.

Nim's story begins at an Oklahoma primate research project, when the mother chimpanzee, Carolyn, is shot with a tranquilizer so the research director can grab Carolyn's sixth newborn, Nim, as they stole all the others. Nim goes from his mother's arms, to adored and beloved "child" of a human mother, to precocious subject of young college students' attention, to an independent young male actually starting to act like a chimpanzee. All along the way, we hear directly from the people who played the supporting roles in Nim's young life. As I listened to them tell their stories, from their perspectives, I could identify with their good intentions.

And arrogance. A university researcher who doesn't believe the "science" was compromised when he seduced the project's sweet teenage "education director." A college graduate who lets a chimpanzee nurse from her breast for months, and then years later thinks she can walk into the (by now) adult chimp's cage, when he is screaming and "displaying," and thinks the chimpanzee won't hurt her. So much arrogance.

Fortunately, Nim also had people who related to him as a chimpanzee, who cared deeply and personally for his welfare.

After Herb, the university researcher, realizes that the adult Nim is a chimp (d'oh!), with all a chimpanzee's strength and unpredictability, he sends Nim back to the Oklahoma facility where Nim has to be in a dark cage for the first time in his life. When the facility runs out of money, Nim is sold to LEMSIP, an infamous experimental research facility, and he is subject to conditions and protocols that are deeply disturbing for any chimpanzee, but are unspeakable for a chimpanzee raised as a human.

Enter Robert Ingersoll, who met and befriended Nim in Oklahoma. Thanks to Robert, and a good lawyer who brought public attention to Nim's situation, LEMSIP decides to sell Nim to a horse sanctuary. From there, Nim's life starts to improve again - not to a standard we would wish for, but at least one that is better.

Project Nim shows us, in a totally engrossing - almost haunting - movie, how keeping a chimpanzee, essentially as some kind of sub-human in costume, is grossly unfair to the chimpanzee, besides being just plain stupid and dangerous. I'm not sure if most of the audience realizes that decades of human arrogance has hurt innumerable chimpanzees, before and after Nim. The unforgiveable thing is that, in the U.S., it still happens. And we let it continue.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on February 17, 2012
Format: Amazon Instant VideoVerified Purchase
About half way through the fascinating, absorbing and unsettling PROJECT NIM, a tear-stained former female caretaker of the chimp looks right into the camera and states "Shame on us." That sense of shame at humanity's awesome hubris is just one of several very strong emotions that filmmaker James Marsh effectively evokes in a film that asks some very big questions, even as it moves and breaks your heart.

Poor Nim. From the day he was torn from his mother's devastated arms, he was unwittingly entwined with human machinations he could never understand nor hope to escape. For an animal lover, it's hard to watch his tragedy unfold, yet also impossible not to watch its moments of sheer joy and revelation; and impossible not to want to comprehend what happened and what it all meant . . . for us, for science and for Nim.

Some might take issue with Marsh's playful directing, which fuses some rather graphic and overtly dramatic recreations with real documentary footage. But I felt he did a great job of allowing the audience to feel what Nim's caretakers appear to have felt -- charmed, seduced, amused, uncertain, sometimes frightened, and often too caught up in their amazing relationship with a wild animal to perceive the moral dangers or eventual consequences.

The film brings up many intriguing issues -- questions about the nature and purpose of language (did scientists really believe that intelligent animals who for millions of years experienced the world without language were going to learn a few signs and suddenly express to us everything they are thinking?); questions about academic and sexual power (the skeevy Herb and his phalanx of fresh-faced, sexy girls is really something!); questions about the shaky moral ground of animal experimentation of all kinds. But it seems the most disturbing question of all is just why of all the smart, sensitive, searching people who worked with Nim over the years . . . only one was willing to fight for his life.

If there is a hero of PROJECT NIM, it is Bob Ingersoll, the young primatology student who befriends Nim like so many others -- but, unlike all the rest, does not abandon him when circumstances bring the highly social chimp first to a gruesome medical lab and then to an even more gruesome refuge, where he nearly fades away of loneliness. Only Ingersoll seems to have Nim's best interests iin mind.

PROJECT NIM is never simplistic. The persons involved, including Nim, are all highly complex and deeply flawed. But at least Bob Ingersoll leaves us with some hope for our own species.
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18 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on December 9, 2011
Format: DVD
Project Nim is a fascinating video comprised from wonderfully logged archives of videos, along with more recent interviews from his caretakers: past and present. It's a great documentary that you don't need to be a naturalist or linguist to enjoy. I enjoyed the "science" from the film, my 9 year old daughter felt the story, and my wife felt so bad for Nim she could barely watch - but did so with great interest. A couple of days later we still find ourselves discussing Nim in the household.

This resource would be a great one for a range of classes, in various educational settings, from kindergarten to graduate school.

The story of Nim, as revealed here, will engaged the viewer with questions: from the nature of language, to the linguistic capacities of "other animals", along with the humane treatment of subjects used in clinical and experimental research. I appreciate the honesty put forth in the documentary as there are aspects of Nim's treatment that will certainly irk you. At the same time as being irked by what had been done to Nim, I feel that many of the decisions made are understandable in the light of events that arose (i.e. Nim badly injuring his volunteer caretakers). One could have simple reported the cute and cuddly successful sides to this story - but thankfully the rougher edges were presented giving us what feels like a complete picture of Nim's life. Nim is an animal and had violent instinctive behavior from time to time. Behavior that made coexistence with its human animal compatriot difficult. I am not suggesting in any negative way that this is Nim's fault, the experimental design was new and did not anticipate such catastrophic encounters. Had Nim taken on language as Columbia University had anticipated, the world would have gained a lot of knowledge from this trial. He didn't do as expected. Lessons were learned at his expense. The video documents this trial, honestly, I believe.

Nowadays I think that research-ethics-committees and protests groups would curve and influence the treatment of "modern" Nim-like cases, and this is a good development, although I am not naïve enough to think that science and research today is 100% animal-friendly.

Understanding that this is not a Hollywood blockbuster (thankfully so) I can see how it could easily be turned into one. I like the vintage film. I like the direct approach here. If you enjoyed books and/or literature that have dealt with Nim and want to know more I think you will really like this educational film. The case is presented here in a fascinating and thoughtful way.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
In 1973 Nim was taken from his mother shortly after birth from a primate facility in Oklahoma. He was to be a university project where he was to be raised as a human child in a home with children and taught to use sign language. The project is managed by a professor from Columbia University as a project on teaching language to a chimpanzee.

The entire premise is wrong as Nim is put into a home without discipline or scientific practice being followed. The people in the home don't even know sign language so how are they going to teach it to Nim? The highlight of the mother's statements is how she breast fed the baby chimp and as he got a little older she let him drink alcohol and smoke pot. The professor is at strained relations with the test family as he had an affair with the mother while she was a student at Columbia.

The professor inserts another young research assistant, which he also seduces, into the home to systematically teach Nim sign language. While they make great progress they decide to move Nim to a remote estate under the care of several additional research assistants. Nim attacks one of the research assistants as she is leaving because her relationship with the professor is strained. They hire more research assistants who work with Nim.

As Nim gets older (5 years) he begins to exert his alpha male status and he is so physically strong that he is a danger to the research assistants and he attacks one of them. They drug him and take him to Oklahoma where he is caged. He is terrified to be around other chimpanzees as his only relationships have been with humans for 5 years. While at the Oklahoma facility he is sold to a medical lab for experimentation by a drug company for Hepatitis and AIDS vaccines....

This true story is extremely sad and nauseating at the same time. The arrogance of the professor and the mother who first had Nim is sickening. They disrupt a chimpanzee's life for their personal enjoyments and experimentation. Nim is moved from mother, to a home, to an estate, to a cage to a drug experimentation laboratory, to recue with total isolation..... The lack of respect for Nim is astounding! What did they think they were going to do with a chimpanzee that lived to the age of 26 years after they tossed him aside because their plans didn't go well?

You can always tell when a movie makes me mad as I expose too much of the story and rant. In the end, the human cruelty to animals and our complete indifference to other life is the sad part of the movie. Poor Nim and the others like him are abused and mistreated while some college professor writes a paper on a failed experiment and gets on national TV. Sadly the people involved with Nim not only mistreated him but giving him pot and the selling him into the medical experimentation labs to me was just too much. We should be experimenting on the professor and testing vaccines on him, he is the sub human in this story!
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10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon January 23, 2012
Format: DVD
This fabulous film is from James Marsh who also gave us MAN ON WIRE.

What makes Nim's story so powerful is the wealth of amateur film footage that was shot during the misguided 1970s language experiment that literally ripped a baby chimp from his mother's breast and placed him in a human home to see if the primate could learn human language if it was raised like a human child. What's especially distressing in this always gripping, sometimes funny and finally heartbreaking documentary is the unbridled arrogance of the experiment's originator, one Dr. Herb Terrace.

Contemporary interviews with those who interacted with Nim (last name Chimsky) in various ways are jaw dropping or tear jerking. The compassion or lack-of for our fellow, sentient, emotional creatures is the real subject of this extraordinary film that exposes the self-serving cruelty we impose in the name of fame and greed. The horrors Nim was subjected to were extreme, and even though he could sign and apparently understood and could communicate rudimentary feelings and desires, no human ever tried to communicate "I'm sorry" even though some attempts were made to alleviate the horrible isolation and loneliness of his long, sad life.

No question the experiment was a failure. What Nim learned from us is the worst of human traits. But what we could have learned from him remains locked behind his knowing but inscrutable eyes. Don't miss this incredible film. You will not be able to take your eyes off Nim.
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on October 31, 2014
Format: Amazon Instant Video
Nim was raised as a human, breast fed by his human "mother", 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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on December 5, 2014
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
Fair but the actual project at least during the years at Columbia U is overlook in favor of the outrageous behavior of some of Nim's teachers. The interviews are limited to those who were the "selected" few and did not include many of the others who were more objective (I was the 1st male live-in caretaker for years at Delafield - seen in the breakfast scene). Does cover Nim's last years fairly well and of course does not have a happy ending. Glad much of the mis-information in Hess' book was omitted, but like her book there is more focus on the sexual exploits of Herb than Nim in the early years.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on May 31, 2012
Format: Amazon Instant VideoVerified Purchase
This story broke my heart, but at least a few people cared about Nim enough to try to make his later years comfortable. It was criminal the way he was socialized and then cast aside when he no longer served a purpose. I'm glad I watched it, sad as it was.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 20, 2012
Format: DVD
What started off as an innocent looking study of NY college professors on this adorable chimp and his ability to use sign language, turned into something sad, tragic and heart-wrenching. I found it to be an interesting portrayal of human behavior as it relates to animal behavior and our unending desire to research and study an area of life over which we should not... and this films poignantly displays this. The parts of the movie that seemed filled with love and laughter always had an underlying selfishishness of the many researchers involved in this chimps life, accept one wonderful man who appreciated that a chimp is a chimp and should live its life as such. Perhaps their intentions were good, but the results were not. Much like Grizzly Man, we should let animals be animals and not impose our human ways on them or our sick desire to study their behavior. This poor chimp went through love and hell and then love and hell and so on and so on. Not fair. The documentary is good, just very real. Will leave you in tears.
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Format: Amazon Instant VideoVerified Purchase
Project Nim makes a strong case for animal rights, examining pet ownership, and rethinking the nature of prisons. All these issues are set against the backdrop of '70s academia, with all its scientific and cultural eccentricities.
As far as language is concerned, Project Nim shows that all animals communicate. Deciding how well is up to the viewer.
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