Sunday, January 15, 2012

Review: Project Nim [2011]

Release Date: 8 July 2011 (USA)
Genre: Documentary
Director: James Marsh
In A Nutshell:
A documentary from director James Marsh (who won an Oscar for another documentary, Man On Wire [2008]), Project Nim tells the story of a chimpanzee, Nim Chimpsky, who after born in 1973 was taken from his mother as part of a scientific experiment. Nim was raised just like a human child by a family and taught sign language to communicate. Nim is then taken away from the family to live with a few other carers. He is also taken to use for medical experiments before freed by a historical lawsuit.
Thumbs Up:
+ The journey of Nim's life is an emotionally engaging, humorous, and extremely fascinating story
+ The human characters and their flawed behaviours are just as interesting as Nim
+ The documentary is able to get interviews with all the major players involved and their stories are  remarkably candid
Thumbs Down:
- Nothing to list as "Thumbs Down"
The Verdict Is In:
Having just recently viewed this majestical documentary, I made it a very late inclusion on my 20 Favourite Movies Of 2011 list. Not only that, I gave it a very high position too. The story of Nim is very reminiscent of The Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes [2011], where Nim is raised liked a human child (Nim is even breast-fed by his human mother), communicating with humans, eventually placed with other chimps, and his reaction when finally meeting with his original family members.

As we get to see, Nim is extremely capable of communicating with the humans. Not only is he ( I'm following the people in the documentary here by using "he" and not "it") capable of doing plenty of sign language (some signs he even developed by his self) but he is also extremely good at reading people's emotions. For instance, he would sign "sorry" when he made people angry and would also give people hugs when he sensed they were upset. At one point in the documentary, we get to see Nim tell a human friend what he did for the day, like what berries he found to eat, etc. Further evidence of his intelligence could be seen in the various ways he manipulates people to get what he wants.

But of course the most fascinating aspect of this feature is the journey of his life. How as he grew older he developed sexual desires but not having any other apes around him. His absolutely terrified reaction when first meeting another chimp, as if he was horrified to see these strange "creatures". His reaction of joy when after years in a sanctuary seeing Dr. Lemmon (the guy who started the research) again and falsely led to thinking he might be rescued. How depressed he became when he found out the truth. His reaction and disgust after an even longer time, when being visited by his original human mother. His relationships and fun times with his human friends, at times even getting drunk and high. These are all priceless moments indeed.

And of course there are the human characters who are just as interesting as Nim. We get to see the good side of humans in some, and unfortunately the bad in plenty others. As another reviewer put it, animals may be wild, but only humans are cruel. I got a profoundly haunting experience after viewing this feature. A must watch for all.
9.5 out of 10


  1. I cannot watch the movie. To me, this so-called 'experiment' is plain inhumane. The scientists were just bunch of arrogant, heartless hypocrites.

  2. Totally agreed! It was very sad watching Nim in his older days. Dr. Lemmon in particular was only interested in the science, while the medical experiments in particular were very cruel.

    But there were some good people, like Bob, Nim's "human friend" from the sanctuary. He fought to get Nim free from the medical lab.


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