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Project Nim
Directed by James Marsh
UK, 2011
Cornerhouse, 14 August 2011

Project Nim

Our relationship with our fellow creatures and in particular with chimpanzees, our near-neighbours on the phylogenetic tree, comes under the microscope in this moving documentary.

The chimp named Nim (after Noam Chomsky) was taken from his mother shortly after birth and raised as a human child.  He was used to test a scientific hypothesis: can chimps learn language, and in particular grammar?  Can they generate unique sentences as people do?  It was soon considered that they cannot; and that is still the scientific consensus.

When the project was abandoned, and after years spent among human beings, Nim was cast aside and placed in a cage.  His human contact was severely limited.  And later he was put in a lab that tested vaccines to be used against HIV.  As an act of betrayal it was pretty despicable.

You come away after watching this documentary with an heightened awareness of how we use other species for our own ends, no matter how noble or admirable those ends may claim to be.  We assume ownership over their lives, believing this to be a God-given right.  Surely there should be a way whereby we can avoid this unwarranted and unseemly arrogance, as well as any anthropomorphic sentimentality (also on show here), and be simply responsible custodians of the earth and its creatures?  Then again, maybe that’s just my inner hippy talking.