There has always been something deeply unsettling about folks who would take an animal out of their own habitat for no reason, but the shameful human foes of "Project Nim" take scientific selfishness to a whole other level. As seen in "Man On Wire" helmer James Marsh's new outing, people’s own self-gratification and desire to make a name in the end costs a harmless and trusting chimpanzee his very sanity – it’s a devastating and at times hard to watch doc to be sure.
Back in the early 1970’s Columbia University behavioral psychologist Professor Herbert Terrace originates Project Nim, a research study of animal language and also a chimpanzee adapting to living life amongst humans as an equal. Nim bounces around from person to person, first with a former psychology student Stephanie LaFarge and her large family and all the way through to various sign language teachers and even back to a mansion with creator Terrace –and the results on all levels are far from positive.
Seeing and hearing from all the people involved in various parts of Nim’s corrupted life is at times humorous (can folks with degrees who go to University really be so naïve?!), but mostly undeniably sad. Marsh does try to connect us to Nim, as we get to see a ton of pictures and some bits of video, but his downward spiral into loneliness and what can only be described as madness is a real wake-up call. Everyone in the film tries to come off as having nothing but best intentions (LaFarge claims he should have been left with her and he would have been fine!) and care for Nim (Terrace visits Nim after all but abandoning him, makes the chimp happy for an afternoon and never returns!) but it’s all a big love fest to see who can make themselves come off better then the next. (My opinion - Terrace’s soul should be forever tainted for this one!) I must admit I didn't care for the fictionalized monkey shadow style bits and such that Marsh injects into this one, plus there’s also an obtrusive stylistic “pass by the subject in a stoic pose” device he uses that kept taking me out of the story – sometimes one has to trust that the subject is engrossing enough. (See your five star previous outing "Man On Wire" James!)
In any case at least there were a few folks who tried to make Nim’s life a bit better (especially Bob Ingersoll who was ironically the man who was kept away from Nim the most!), but it’s a case of too little too late. For the only one who really mattered, the one who suffered the most and the one whom all the inhuman folks within truly owe their apology too was an incredible chimp blessed with a long memory that everyone else conveniently forgot.
PROJECT NIM OPENS IN SELECT THEATERS IN L.A. ON JULY 15TH.