Cute, dark, and engaging, “Project Nim” is a documentary that takes on a multitude of faces. It revolves around a social experiment that took place in the 1970s in which an ape (nicknamed Nim) is raised like a human from birth. The documentary follows Nim through his upbringing along with the people who helped raise him and befriend him along the way.
From his infancy in New York to his adolescence in the sanctuary in which he was born, from the animal testing facility in which he was experimented on to the animal rescue ranch where he spent the latter part of his life, it’s safe to say that Nim lived a very checkered life. His storied and at times troubled life plays out similar to a “Behind The Music” episode. Smoking pot, drinking beer, eating junk food … Nim was brought up to be just like the hippies who took turns raising him.
After watching this documentary, I realized one constant remains true when it comes to social experiments such as this: You may be able to take an animal out of the wild, but no matter how hard you try, you can’t take the wild out of the animal. A particular quote from the film struck a chord with me in particular and mirrors my sentiment at the same time: “You can’t given human nurture to an animal that will kill you.” That pretty much explains it all. What starts out as incredibly heartwarming and unnervingly adorable soon becomes sad to witness. Nim’s life was treated as one giant experiment. He was exploited from birth and ended up dying of what amounted to be heart-crushing loneliness.
The documentary itself is extremely well put together. It is very similar to “The Thin Blue Line” in terms of its stylization, specifically the blending of traditional interviews and dramatizations. Despite being centered around a non-human subject, the film manages to touch upon the very human elements that set Nim apart from most other apes. “Project Nim” ends up being more of a biography than one would expect, creating a strong emotional connection between the audience and the star of the film.
The DVD features are rather abundant, moreso than I was expecting. There is a director commentator with James Marsh, a making-of featurette and a piece entitled “Bob’s Journey,” which further follows up with one of Nim’s most supportive caretakers. There are plenty of extra features worth watching, especially for those left wanting to learn more about the film.