Project Nim

Project Nim


Documentary about a chimp named Nim Chimpsky - put into a Manhattan family home in 1973 by a behavioural psychologist who set about testing Noam Chomsky's thesis that language is peculiar to humans. Could a non-human animal learn sign-language? From the director of Oscar-winning Man on Wire.... More

"After his early years with a quintessential, self-described ‘rich hippy’ Upper West Side family, Nim is transplanted to a university-owned upstate mansion. The chimp’s development and education is complicated throughout by romantic upheavals between the psychologist, Herbert Terrace, and his ‘researchers’ – and between the researchers themselves. For all its ebullience, enchantment and at times sheer cuteness, this is not one for children. What begins as an intriguing account of an unusual experiment shifts imperceptibly, and without a moment of moralism or hyperbole, into a story of almost Euripidean proportions – of trust and betrayal, of vengeance and redemption." (Source: NZ International Film Festival 2011)Hide

  • Directing Award (World Cinema Documentary), Sundance Film Festival 2011.

  • Directed by James Marsh

    Starring Herbert Terrace

    Written by James Marsh (based on the book 'Nim Chimpsky: The Chimp Who Would Be Human' by Elizabeth Hess)

    • Documentary
    • 93mins
    • Rating: M contains drug use and offensive language
    • UK

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Flicks Review

With its heady mix of compelling true-life story, eccentric characters and dramatic tension, writer-director James Marsh mines yet another long-forgotten slice of ‘70s madness. Those who saw his excellent Man on Wire know exactly what to expect – plenty of talking heads, conflicting stories and betrayal at every turn, but somehow Nim doesn’t quite pack the punch of Philippe Petit’s wire-walking antics. Rather than being amazed at the audacity of the little Frenchman’s scheme, here we are appalled but ultimately unsurprised that such an unusual experiment went pear-shaped, not because the chimp wasn’t up to it but because the human’s motivations were flawed at best, dodgy at worst.... More

Central in this was psychologist Herbert Terrace, who the film gradually reveals was motivated more by a certain part of his anatomy than any scientific notions. Likewise, the woman who agreed to take Nim in, Stephanie LaFarge, also had bizarre ideas, failing to tell her six kids or husband her new hairy baby was about to arrive and not bothering with any journals or diaries except when it came to the primate pleasuring himself.

Timing-wise the film has also suffered from having its thunder stolen by two recent releases. Tabloid is a far more compelling scandal-and-sex laced doco, while Rise of the Planet of the Apes details with far more drive and verve what happens when primate science goes awry. So whilst the footage gathered (including stills and home movies) is fascinating, this tale of sex, drugs and lies ultimately feels like a VH1 Behind the Music Special rather than something more serious.Hide

The Peoples' Reviews

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BY adeej superstar

This fascinating documentary describes how researchers in the US in the 1970s tried to tame a chimp and communicate with the chimp through sign language. It provided an interesting expose on the researchers and research assistants' lives and everything that they had to go through to try and achieve a scientific discovery. The juxtaposition between scientific research and whether the research is good for the subject (in this case a chimp) was clearly shown. While Nim was cute and cuddly at... More first, chimpanzees are wild animals and this documentary showed the problems that arose when Nim grew up.Hide

The Press Reviews

98% of critics recommend.
Rotten Tomatoes Score. More reviews on Rotten Tomatoes

  • Exploring Nim’s touching, tragic life via vintage footage and Errol Morris-style interviews, Marsh’s sensitive doc is a light look at some dark clues to the kind of creatures we really are. Full Review

  • A provocative and surprisingly emotional saga that ranges from wrenching to downright hilarious. Full Review

The Talk
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