Thursday, July 28, 2016
"Project Nim" proved to be a fascinating examination of science run amok and the hubris of man's attempt to get animals to conform to our rules and social structure. At least that's the message that the majority of CineVerse members came away with after viewing this 2011 documentary last evening. Among the topics we discussed were the following:
WHAT DID YOU FIND UNEXPECTED, DISTINCTIVE, AND MEMORABLE ABOUT THIS FILM?
• The chimpanzee often appears more intelligent and definitely more sympathetic than any of the humans around him.
• Unlike many other documentary films, this one utilizes reenacted footage with actors, and even a chimp robotic, to depict past events; this is an approach often used by documentarian Errol Morris.
• Arguably, this film is more about Nim’s handlers than Nim himself; and Roger Ebert’s review, he said: “I call Nim ‘he’ rather than ‘it’ because that’s how his humans see him. The movie is more about how we see them.”
• Viewers may go into a film like this with grandiose expectations that this would be a successful linguistic experiment and a scientific miracle – anticipating that the chimpanzee could effectively learn to communicate with humans via sign language or otherwise; actually, these expectations are lowered throughout the film and any hope for a scientific miracle is squelched by tragedy.
• The chimpanzee is often depicted as a child of divorce or a broken home as well as a troubled adolescent trying to cope in a series of dysfunctional families.
• It may make many viewers think twice about how they see animals in zoos or as pets going forward.
WHAT THEMES ARE EXAMINED IN THIS MOVIE?
• Humans or animals, but other animals are not humans and cannot be understood in human terms.
• The hubris of man – trying to get an animal to conform to man’s world.
• The sometimes inhumane consequences of man’s scientific curiosity and ambition.
NIM GETS PASSED AROUND LIKE AN ABANDONED CHILD OF DIVORCE TO A SERIES OF DIFFERENT CAREGIVERS. CAN YOU TRACE THIS PROGRESSION?
• It starts with his “father,” Herb and proceeds to:
• “Mother” (Stephanie) and Nim’s “sister” (Stephanie’s daughter) and reluctant stepfather (Stephanie’s husband)
• Stepmother (Laura)
• New sisters and brother (Herb’s new assistants)
• Head of an orphanage
• Foster father (Bob)
• Somewhat kind warden of a cruel prison (LEMSIP)
• Emancipator (lawyer)
• Adoptive father (ranch owner)
NIM THE CHIMP HAS BEEN COMPARED TO CHARACTERS IN LITERATURE BY DICKENS AND KAFKA; CAN YOU CITE ANY EXAMPLES?
• New York Times reviewer A.O. Scott wrote: “(Nim) resembles the titular hero of a Dickens novel, an orphan buffeted by circumstances whose biography is also a fable of individual virtue and social injustice. A helpless innocent compared with his protectors and tormentors, Nim bounces like a long-armed David Copperfield from one unnatural home to another His tale is Dickensian, but also Kafkaesque, since he is at the mercy of powerful forces beyond his ken or control. Red Peter, the learned ape in Kafka’s devastating “Report to an Academy,” dreams, above all else, of a “way out,” and to watch footage of the young Nim at play and in confinement is to infer that he must have known a similar longing.”
OTHER FILMS THAT REMIND US OF PROJECT NIM
• Koko: A Talking Gorilla
• Au Hasard Balthazar
• Grizzly Man
• Unlocking the Cage
• Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Rise of the Planet of the Apes
OTHER FILMS BY DIRECTOR JAMES MARSH
• Man on Wire
• Shadow Dancer
• The Theory of Everything