What happens when a bunch of academic hippies take a new-born chimp and attempt to raise him like a human in New York with the aim of teaching him sign-language and finally bridging the inter-species communication gap? Well, first they give him a highbrow joke for a name, then they let him smoke weed and ride motorcycles, and finally, when the animal gets too big and is still not displaying use of syntax, they ship him off to an experimental research laboratory.
A couple of decades later, they write memoirs about their time with said chimp, and then the cherry on this sordid cake is the film: the moving documentary Project Nim. Director James Marsh managed to interview just about all of the people involved in the process of raising Nim and attempting to teach him sign language – you can see their individual profiles in this Guardian article. In the end, he not only succeeds in showing us the emotional involvement the researchers had with the chimp, he also untangles the love-affairs between the human participants which only added to the delicate and complex nature of the project.
This is a documentary worth watching if only to be reminded that chimps may not have syntax, but they are probably nicer than most humans. I know whose side I’m on in any case.