Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Project Nim - Advanced Screening

I was very excited to get advanced screening tickets to the new HBO Documentary, Project Nim. I’ve always wanted to respond to the one of shout outs from Entertainment Weekly, but when my kids were small, I didn’t have the luxury to run out to the movies on whim. Still, with working full-time and having to take a BART train into San Francisco by 6pm, it was still a challenge to get myself there, but it was worth it.

My husband met me after work and we hopped a bus to the theater. It was necessary to arrive an hour before show time and there was quite a bit of waiting around. It was worth it to this moviegoer to not only see a film that was already on my summer watch list, but to see it for free and before everyone else!

The film chronicles the life of Nim Chimpsky, a chimpanzee that was hand picked to learn sign language in the 1970’s in a project at Columbia University. Nim’s life was also chronicled in the 2008 book: Nim Chimpsky, The Chimp Who Would Be Human. As usual, I completely planned to read this book before seeing the film, but I never had time. However, I still feel the book would fill in some gaps and better explain some aspects of Nim’s life that didn’t make it into the film.

The film is a great glimpse into life in the 70’s as much as it’s about this chimp’s life. There are so many free-spirited, free-love characters that were in Nim’s life that it almost seems made-up. The hippie mom who brings Nim to live with her family and lets him run amuck, the mustached professor that seems more interested in banging hot, young research students than properly overseeing his project, and the primate research worker who’s happy to share long walks and his joint with Nim.

Although I feel I would get more nitty-gritty knowledge by reading Elizabeth Hess’ book, no book can take the place of footage of the adorable Nim in action. This chimp is easy to fall in love with, but we also learn that humans can only safely be with chimps for a few years. As Nim matures, he becomes aggressive and the film does not shy away from talking about the damage he did to handlers and even showing that some people fell out of love with him because of this.

One of the most interesting aspects of this film was how the central players did not turn out they way the would have been portrayed in a fictional account. The medical researcher was not the evil, heartless, animal hater you would think and ironically, the cruelest time in Nim’s life is when he is rescued and sent to an animal sanctuary. This part of his life is particularly interesting and the part that makes me want to read the book to delve in more. Nim is left alone in a cage with no socialization. Howeve,r this is not the end of Nim’s journey and the viewer will be satisfied that the whole story has been told. It will raise many questions as to how man treats animals and what are responsibility is to them. This film made me think for days and that has to be the ultimate compliment for a documentary.

No comments: