Project Nim James Marsh

Project Nim James Marsh
In 1973, Herbert Terrace (a behavioural psychologist at Columbia University) conceived of a project wherein a baby chimpanzee – Nim, to be exact – would be taken from its mother and raised as a human infant, in an effort to teach it sign language, breaking the barrier of interspecies communication. The experiment also questioned the concept of nature versus nurture, potentially answering speculative questions about inherent animal behaviour and the process of human socialization. Using a mixture of present-day interviews, archive footage and artistic, non-invasive re-enactments, Man on Wire director James Marsh provides a linear and exceptionally engrossing look at this endeavour, mixing human behaviours and inconsistencies with Nim's evolution and reactions to weave a tapestry of misguided nobility and ego. Starting with Stephanie LaFarge (an idealistic Earth mother hippie that smoked Nim up, breast-fed and let him fondle her naked body), Project Nim details the baby chimp's upbringing in the homes of various comely graduate and undergraduate students that Herb copulated with. When LaFarge's lack of structure proved problematic, Nim was put in the care of a student named Laura, who enforced a more regimented routine, teaching the chimp an excessive amount of sign language phrases. And inevitably, this pairing proved problematic, taking Nim down yet another path, confusing his perceptions of behavioural expectations and imbuing an abandonment complex. This evolution of character as a reaction to psychological abuse provides a consistent emotional thread, elevating the doc beyond expository narrative to a moving work of empathy and identification without any undue anthropomorphizing. We get a sense of not only the similarities and differences between humans and chimps, but also of our flaws and intellectual limitations. As revolutionary and potentially exciting as this scientific experiment was, the inherent selfishness, solipsism and emotional inconsistency of the humans involved ultimately rendered it moot, which, as any conscious person can deduce, can be applied to almost all Homosapien endeavours. Unfortunately, the DVD doesn't come with any supplements or interviews, leaving Marsh's masterful, moving and intelligent construction of a complex story to speak for itself. (Mongrel Media)