Project Nim

2011

Project Nim

Critics Consensus

Equal parts hilarious, poignant, and heartbreaking, Project Nim not only tells a compelling story masterfully, but also raises the flag on the darker side of human nature.

97%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 143

84%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 10,317
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Movie Info

From the team behind Man on Wire comes the story of Nim, the chimpanzee who in the 1970s became the focus of a landmark experiment which aimed to show that an ape could learn to communicate with language if raised and nurtured like a human child. Following Nim's extraordinary journey through human society, and the enduring impact he makes on the people he meets along the way, the film is an unflinching and unsentimental biography of an animal we tried to make human. What we learn about his true nature - and indeed our own - is comic, revealing and profoundly unsettling. -- (C) Roadside Attractions

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Critic Reviews for Project Nim

All Critics (143) | Top Critics (40) | Fresh (139) | Rotten (4)

Audience Reviews for Project Nim

  • Mar 01, 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.
    Walter M Super Reviewer
  • May 01, 2012
    <i>"I thought wouldn't it be exciting to communicate with a chimp and find out what it was thinking."</i> 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. <center><font size=+2 face="Century Schoolbook"><b><u>REVIEW</u></b></font></center> 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.
    Lorenzo v Super Reviewer
  • Mar 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 ...it 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?"
    Matthew S Super Reviewer
  • Feb 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!
    Panta O Super Reviewer

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