Project Nim (Review)

James Marsh doc delivers another unique cinematic experience

James Marsh, director of Man on Wire, examines the 25-year chronicle of Nim Chimpsky, a research chimpanzee who was put through the mill in the service of science. Nim's origins trace back to early 1970s hippie Columbia University professor Herb Terrace. Terrace took the baby chimp away from his mother and attempted to train it to communicate through sign language.

With more than a few ulterior motives regarding his female assistants and University-supplied housing, Herb takes a less-than-scientific approach to collecting data on Nim's learning abilities. Leaving Nim in the hands of his sexually associated student Stephanie LaFarge and her husband and kids on their palatial estate, the family allows Nim to rule the roost in a nurture vs. nature environment. La Farge goes so far as to breastfeed the monkey. Nim's trajectory through the hands of untrained researchers and into the animal-testing industry presents a complex study in animal abuse.

With access to a tremendous amount of archival footage of every stage of Nim's life, Marsh intersperses stylistically staged interview segments with many of the participants. Project Nim is an in-depth documentary with far-reaching implications about modern culture. It's impossible not to be swept up in the fragmented story of a de facto child who is repeatedly abandoned by people who exploit him with both good and bad intentions. More than just a brilliant documentary, Project Nim is a unique cinematic experience. Grade: A

Opens July 29. Check out theaters and show times, see the trailer and get theater details here.
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