Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Project Nim

This afternoon, at a practically empty matinee show, I saw Project Nim, a documentary by James Marsh about an attempt, sponsored by Columbia University in the 1970s, to teach sign language to the chimpanzee Nim Chimsky. The film consists of archival footage, present-day interviews with the participants & some stylized recreations of ominous events. Ultimately the film is about the ethical issues of the experiment. Nim was forcibly taken as a newborn from his mother & apparently raised by hippies. There was no plan for what should happen once he became too mature & dangerous for his teachers to handle. The 2 most important researchers in the story, Professor Herbert Terrace & Dr. James Mahoney, come across as creepy & ambivalent. If the film has a hero, it is Bob Ingersoll, who never treated Nim as a subject animal, smoked pot with him & never gave up trying to improve his quality of life.

The film has a mood-setting score by Dickon Hinchliffe, but it also includes the Penguin Cafe Orchestra's Perpetuum Mobile, which ought to be banned from soundtracks.

§ Project Nim
James Marsh, director

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