Courtesy of James Marsh

Audience members that are fans of traditional and old-fashioned documentaries might be jarred by Project Nim. Director James Marsh goes far beyond simply showing data as he suggests ethical questions about the use of animals for scientific research. The journey of Nim, a chimpanzee, through the scientific and human world hides moral and ethical questions from the beginning to the end.

Herbert Terrace, a scientist at Columbia University in New York, had the ambitious project of teaching Nim sign language. Through a wonderful combination of black and white pictures, classical music and old home videos, the audience joins Nim in his learning process.

The journey starts with tones of humor and emotion. The chimpanzee is more than a project; he learns words but also how to smoke, drink alcohol and ride a motorcycle. Among the community of scientists, he becomes one more. He is neither a chimpanzee nor a child. He is between two worlds.

The emotional and charming atmosphere gets darker as the chimpanzee grows old. Nim gets smarter, but he also becomes violent and wild. Although he communicates like a human, Nim is a life-threatening chimpanzee. The scientists as the audience the audience, are compelled to question themselves whether the human or animal side of Nim defines him.

But Nim’s destiny is sealed after he seriously injures one of the scientists. He migrates from green and sunny outdoor environments to Oklahoma and then to Texas. Cold and lonely cages, experimental laboratories and homes for abused animals become his new home. Nim has demonstrated that he is not prepared for human world.  But is he ready to live as a normal captive chimpanzee?

Like he did in previous documentaries, such as Man on the Wire, director James Marsh uses advanced multimedia and design techniques, inspired by photography, to develop more than a documentary. Project Nim does not limit itself to simply giving away facts. It questions the scientific community and questions if the audience suggests certain criticism toward the human race that has left an innocent animal without a place in the world.

Vox Rating: VVV

– Alejandra Quintela Sanchez

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