Attention film lovers and aspiring critics — the Cape Breton Island Film Series wants to hear from you! This year the festival is conducting an online survey to find out how much (or how not so much) you liked each week’s films. Vote and be heard here!
The Cape Breton Island Film Series continues this week with Project Nim, the biography of a chimpanzee who was raised as a human in an experiment designed to determine whether an ape could learn to communicate using language. What follows is less an exploration of the complexities of animal development, and more – you might have guessed – a window into our own tragic failure as humans to understand and respect our animal brethren.
In 1973, the soon-to-be-christened Nim Chimpsky was taken from his mother just days after his birth, and “adopted” by Columbia / evil professor Herbert Terrace, who was testing Noam Chomsky’s theory that language is a fundamentally human trait. I don’t want to tell you how it ends, but when was the last time you had a good conversation with a monkey?
The film closely follows the life of Chimpsky, as he is bounced from home to heartbreaking home, through the ‘70s and ‘80s, with just enough pot-smoking comic relief and inspirational moments of joy to remind us that everything is okay, sort of, sometimes.
Director James Marsh, in the follow-up to his sublime, Oscar-winning documentary Man On Wire, allows Nim’s story to tell itself. Through the accounts of Dr. Terrace and the people who raised, educated, rescued, and cared for Nim, the all-too-human drama unfolds, complete with manipulative ambition and well-intentioned folly.
In the end, I suspect, we will learn very little about Nim and what he was never entirely able to learn how to say (in his life, Nim learned 125 signs, but nothing that would come close to “go fuck yourself.”). What we expect to find instead, in Project Nim, is a story about ourselves – who we try to be, who we choose to be, and who we end up being anyway.
Project Nim plays Thursday, September 15 at Empire Theatre Studio 10, 325 Prince Street, Sydney. Tickets are $11 and $7 for students.