(Rating: 12A, 99 mins) Written by Zen Terrelonge
Immaculate timing at its finest.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is released this week and now another creature feature comes along with Project Nim.
Well it’s not quite the same story as the turbo-brained apes, it’s not the present day and our chimps name isn’t Caesar – it’s Nim.
In the 1970′s it was a different time, afros, mullets and perms were commonplace.
Bellbottoms were totally gnarly and children were scared of their parents, but that’s a separate issue.
There was also the conception of a far out idea – raising a chimp as a human.
Project Nim is a true documentary about a young zee-zee (a little abbreviation I’m working on for chimpanzee) who was taken from his mother’s clutches as a baby and raised as a child.
The film itself offers an honest and incredible inside look at the seventies lifestyle of a Pinocchio tale about the ape becoming a real boy.
Herb S. Terrace is the man who spawned the idea. He wanted to test just what the true learning capabilities, intelligence and humanity of the animal that we allegedly evolved from were.
We see Nim go from hesitant baby, cheeky toddler to a fierce and competitive male.
To begin with he’s taken on by a willing mother Stephanie LaFarge, a former student (and lover) of Herb’s.
Despite not conferring with her family (well, the expressions on their faces would be gold dust), Stephanie raises Nim in the same way she did all of her children; diapers, breast-feeding, the lot.
Yeah, the breast-feeding thing knocked me for six too.
Nim is a bright, compassionate, cute animal and as explained by Stephanie’s daughter, a teen at the time, if you were sad or lonely, he would comfort you.
I assume the comfort didn’t come with pearls of wisdom about young love on top of the hairy hug – that would be strange and unusual.
The first sign of his inner (and outer) beast is in his dislike of Stephanie’s husband but maybe he just didn’t approve of the ponytail. The hippie.
Just like a spoiled child or a dog, Nim insists on being the apple of his mother’s eye, he is fiercely protective and terrorizes her other half where possible to comedic effect, whether that’s taking a nip at his fingers or knocking his precious books to the ground from the strategic organization.
Unimpressed with the factual results and regulation in Nim’s progress, Herb begins to play a more active role in the upbringing.
The Playboy Professor starts hiring tutors and handlers as part of the apes development so that the ultimate goal to teach Nim sign language moves forward.
Behind the scenes there is sexual tension, resentment and betrayal (to clarify, that’s not with the chimps), perhaps it’s a product of this that changes Nim as he becomes a powerfully built, fanged, young adult.
But I doubt it.
A radical experiment, during its run, the world followed the phenomenon as Nim experienced a crazy lifestyle comparable to that of a Rockstar, full of travel and upheaval.
That also includes smoking marijuana; I’m not sure that was on Herb’s menu for remembering signs though.
Equipped with some beautiful photographs and footage documenting the full 26 years of Nim’s unique life, Project Nim makes for truly remarkable viewing.