Project Nim - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Project Nim Reviews

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Super Reviewer
May 1, 2012
"I thought wouldn't it be exciting to communicate with a chimp and find out what it was thinking."

Tells the story of a chimpanzee taken from its mother at birth and raised like a human child by a family in a brownstone on the upper West Side in the 1970s.

The very idea of a chimp being brought up in human society is a fascinating one. But it quickly becomes apparent that this experiment is doomed to failure. There is a very good reason that you do not see people keep chimpanzees as pets - they can be extremely aggressive and powerful animals. On numerous occasions carers were bitten and maimed. One woman had a hole ripped in the side of her face while another had her head repeatedly beaten off the pavement by the ape. But the over-riding feeling engendered by the documentary is one of sadness. This poor creature is let down by those who took him from his mother and decided to rear him as a human.

It seems to me quite outrageous that an animal taught to communicate with people and live in a house should ever have been sent to an animal experiment centre. The essential message of the film is that you should not try to transport a wild animal into human society and not expect repercussions. Some of the people in the film are just guilty of naivety, dangerous as it was. As much as a story about a remarkable primate, it's a story about human stupidity, human callousness and - thanks to Bob Ingersoll - human kindness. It's overall a remarkable documentary.
Super Reviewer
½ March 26, 2012
Four million dogs and cats out of the eight million that enter America's shelters are euthanized each year. If a number alone doesn't stir your emotions, Project Nim will. Among many other things, this movie is a close-up, extreme case of our apathetic, conditional love towards other beings, be them human or otherwise. The movie doesn't accuse anybody, but with actual footage and narration by those involved in Nim's life, it implicitly argues that if we want to include animals in our home, we have a responsibility for their whole life, including understanding them on their terms and providing for their needs (and knowing this information BEFORE bringing them into our life). It reminds me of the conversation held at the beginning of the movie Artificial Intelligence: "It occurs to me isn't just a question of creating a robot that can love. Isn't the real conundrum, can you get a human to love them back?"
Super Reviewer
½ October 8, 2011
'Project Nim'. A chimp raised as a human child and then senselessly moved and emotionally mistreated. For "science". Devastating.
Super Reviewer
½ September 23, 2011
Documentary about Nim, a chimp who was raised as a human, taught sign language, and then abandoned and shuffled around to a series of temporary homes, unsuited to fit into either the human or ape worlds. Thought-provoking, and one of the most emotionally affecting movies of the year; fans of RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES owe it to themselves to check out this real-life version of events.
Super Reviewer
½ August 2, 2011
The new documentary from James Marsh (director of 2008's Man on Wire) is poignant, funny, engaging and at times unsettling. Nim, a chimpanzee who was used as the test subject of an experiment carried out to show that an ape could communicate with humans through the use of sign language, is an unforgettable screen presence. One of the film's great accomplishments is the way it showcases all the elements of Nim's personality. We see his nice and welcoming characteristics, but also his dark side. Marsh balances both a study of this chimp in such an wonderful way, that the fact he is able to balance this with the way the film explores how terrible the consequences of research gone wrong, is astounding. It doesn't shy away from showing us the harsh treatment of animals like chimpanzees and just how cruel human nature can prove. This is without a doubt, a contender for Best Documentary Feature at next year's Academy Awards and Marsh proves he isn't a one trick pony with an almost equally good follow up to Man on Wire.
Super Reviewer
July 22, 2011
People who are genuinely fond of animals often do them the supreme disservice of ascribing human qualities to them, which strips them of their essential animal-ness and what makes them what they are - not what we want them to be. "Project Nim" looks, in part, at the damage done to one animal who was treated as human until it was no longer convenient to do so. This film provides a very interesting look at the human arrogance involved in trying to shape the natural world to suit our needs, and the compassion - and guilt - involved in trying to set things right. It provides, I think, a microcosmic look at the way human beings have seriously messed up much of the planet and how hard it is to put the genie back into the bottle.
Super Reviewer
July 20, 2011
James Marsh who directed Man on Wire, the 2008 Academy Award winner for Best Documentary, turns his attention to a study in which a baby chimpanzee was raised and nurtured like a human child. Conducted by Herbert S. Terrace, professor of psychology at Columbia University in the early 1970s, the thesis was predicated on the belief that a monkey brought up in this way, could be taught to use American Sign Language as a means to communicate. This then would shed light on the way a vocabulary is acquired and used by individuals. The simian was named Nim Chimpsky, a pun on Noam Chomsky, the celebrated linguist who did not hold these beliefs. Chomsky believed only humans develop language in this fashion.

Based on Elizabeth Hess's book, Nim Chimpsky: The Chimp Who Would Be Human, Project Nim is a well presented, but unsettling and thoroughly depressing story. The way the events unfold can be infuriating to behold. It's much deeper than I expected. This is not some sentimental reminiscence concerning a cute chimp. It takes a surprisingly atypical point of view. The documentary goes to great lengths not to misrepresent Nim as human and moreover doesn't push the humans as barbarians either. I admire that level of impartiality. Yet I wanted to be more emotionally invested in this story. Make no mistake, it made me profoundly sad. It was an admittedly affecting chronicle of an experiment gone wrong. But it's distressing when the monkey shows more humanity than the people.
Super Reviewer
March 1, 2013
"Project Nim" starts not so innocently enough when Nim, a baby chimpanzee, is taken out of the arms of his mother at the Primate Studies Institute in Oklahoma in 1973. He is brought to New York by Herbert Terrace, a Columbia University professor, who wants to see if chimpanzees can be taught sign language and communicate with humans. So, he gives Nim's care over to Stephanie LaFarge. As much fun as she has raising her new charge, there is no clinical structure until Laura-Ann Petitto, an 18-year old research assistant, is hired for the project and the operation is moved to an expansive estate in Riverdale.

On the surface, the documentary "Project Nim" looks like a no-lose proposition with its fascinating subject, who is recalled with loads of home movies and interviews with many of the participants. But where this sentimental film goes wrong is in its lack of critical distance which brings mixed results concerning the primates here. While we get insights into chimpanzee behavior, the same cannot be said for the human beings whose attitudes are explained blithely away by one person when she says it was the 70's. That might be true if you were talking about giving a joint to your kid's babysitter; not so much when you're giving a strong chimpanzee a joint.(I imagine people at these reunions start by showing each other their scars.) And as much as Herbert Terrace comes off as unsympathetic, he is right that the results of the experiments were questionable, to say the least, as the researchers possibly blurred results by their anthropomorphizing Nim.
Super Reviewer
July 19, 2011
And the spine-tingling you'll-never-see-what-happens-next surprise of the summer is a documentary about a chimp called PROJECT NIM. This new film from the director of the very popular MAN ON WIRE is a truly terrific film - full of footage and facts in the twisty life story of a chimp who was raised among humans. It's also a strong movie about our responsibility to the animals we use in the world - and I mean use. This tale is not just a hugfest. It's a cautionary tale and will leave you shocked and humbled if you let it. Director James Marsh may rely a bit too much on theatrics and reenactments (it was my problem with MAN ON WIRE) but the final effect here is so strong it's hard to complain too much. Don't miss this.
Super Reviewer
July 21, 2011
Shows clearly the responsibility that man has for the well being of animal life..particularly high intelligence animal life. Nim is almost like a character from Dickens in going from a rewarding life as a highly prized experiment subject into the prisons of lab testing and later a disheartening "retirement".
Super Reviewer
½ February 25, 2012
Very powerful movie with its heartbreaking story which will expose lots of abuse of Columbia University authorities... actually when I think about this experiment, to me the main reason for conducting it, and Nim becoming a research subject, was that the professor Herbert Terrace from Columbia University in New York can get laid! Through the documentary we witnessed that he finished in bed with almost every person involved... except Nim himself! Why would a linguist start an experiment in which his only real involvement is to give interviews and pose with the chimpanzee and the team, and keep it going without even having a real data keeping?

Nim's tale resembles the shape of a serialized narrative - he is sadly passed from one caretaker to the next, each one mostly well-intentioned and loving but also misguided and inevitably self-serving (as the professor himself)! Sad chapters of Nim's life are following and those chapters one by one become more astounding, confounding, and compelling. Yes, Nim acquires some communication skills, but he is never able to speak for himself! And all others just fail to speak for him!

Exploitation of Nim for human gain was appalling, yet there are important aspects which Marsh leaves unexplored, and that was the only negative remark about the movie. At the end, at least, we all agree that Nim was taken advantage of in the exercise of shabby science, and things like that should never happen!
Super Reviewer
½ July 26, 2011
Spanning the life of Nim Chimpsky, a chimpanzee raised in an anthropological environment since birth for the scientific study of animal language acquisition, "Project Nim" is by no means just a science documentary. It covers the scope of the project, the behind-the-scene human dynamics and entanglements, and most of all, takes a hard look at the sacrifice, abandonment and misfortune of Nim beyond his use in the project. Numerous recent and archival interviews, and video clips and photographs from the study, are strung together to tell the chronology in a coherent manner. It is effective as both a sympathetic tale of a neglected chimpanzee and the humans who turned their backs on him, and as a cautionary lesson on the ethical and moral dilemmas of animal test subjects.
Super Reviewer
½ August 21, 2011
Outstanding documentary and one of this year's best movies. Nim Chimpsky is the star of the show and what a star he is...a curious young chimp ripped away from his mother at birth and taught to sign in a Columbia University science project in cross-species communication.

Nim grows up and grows strong and can no longer be trusted not to instinctively act out as any chimp would thus being shipped back to a "chimp prison" and then to a lab where chimps are injected with various cures for diseases. Finally, Nim ends up in animal preserve in Texas where he lives out his life until he dies at the age of 26.

Humans do not come off well in this movie. The book that Project Nim is based on written by Elizabeth Hess is a recommended read. Watch this movie and you will be delighted at Nim's savvy "intelligence" and haunted by the travails of his life among us enlightened ones. As mentioned in the documentary chimps are very forgiving...put me in Nim's shoes and I wouldn't be so gracious.

A must see movie! (8-20-11)
Super Reviewer
January 31, 2012
Wonderful, powerful film exploring the potential humanity of a remarkable animal as well as the ignorance and arrogance of man. 'Project Nim' is a thought-provoking story that can lift your spirits and fascinate the mind as much as it can break your heart. One of the most unbelievable Oscar snubs, it is truly not to be missed. What was the Academy thinking?
Super Reviewer
January 8, 2012
A heatbreaking doc about a chimpanzee that was used for science and the ignorance of some of the people who cared for him.
½ January 30, 2016
Very cute in the beginning, but maddening towards the end when they start harming the monkey. Very good documentary that shows the outward display of emotion from one monkey
½ January 24, 2016
Project Nim is such a heartbreaking and very important film. It is very well made, very emotional and always so fascinating with its intriguing subject matter being extremely well explored with many clever and sophisticated themes. It is one of the year's finest films and one of the best documentaries I've seen.
½ June 2, 2014
If you're interested in language or how humans & animals can communicate then you should see this documentary. 'Nim' is an intelligent & engaging story about a chimp that science foolishly tried to raise as if it were human
½ November 20, 2013
This story was all over the place and I am unclear on what the message was. Was it supposed to gross you out with all the sexual weirdness between human and chimpanzee? Or was it a PSA against using drugs? Or was it about animal testing and cruelty to animals?
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