49 of 54 people found the following review helpful
Nim gives a lesson in human arrogance
, December 28, 2011
This review is from: Project Nim (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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