Born at an Oklahoma primate centre in 1973, Nim was taken from his mother after only a few days and sent to live with the LaFarge family in New York. Headed up by Columbia professor Terrace, the project aimed to test nature versus nurture, and to see if a chimp could communicate with humans using sign language. To better control the study, Nim moved into a more controlled environment with trainers Laura and Bill, who after a few years are horrified when Nim is sent back to Oklahoma to live in a cage for the first time in his life.
And Nim's story takes some more turns. At the primate centre, he finds friendship with the playful hippie Bob. But when money runs out, Nim is sold for medical experiments, an event that sparks a legal case before Nim moves to a farm for rescued horses. Through all of this, there are a handful of people who genuinely care about Nim's wellbeing, and they are powerless to protect him. He died in 2000 from a heart attack.
Hearing these people reminisce, it's clear that Nim made a huge impact on their lives. Some trainers became intensely close with him, both as teachers and playmates, and they never blame him when his violent impulses cause serious injuries. Intriguingly, Nim seemed to know that he was a chimp in a human world, learning quickly how to manipulate people, challenging men he saw as a threat and clearly grappling with his wilder instincts.
Marsh assembles this with a strong sense of Nim's life story, so we are gripped to the events as they happen. Remarkably, we experience much of this through Nim's eyes, even as the film refuses to humanise him. So in the end, the film asks some potent questions without ever moralising. Whether or not it was right for these scientists to study Nim, it's clear that the way we treat animals really needs to change.
Run time: 93 mins
In Theaters: Friday 12th August 2011
Box Office USA: $0.4M
Distributed by: Roadside Attractions
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 98%
Fresh: 128 Rotten: 3
IMDB: 7.4 / 10
Director: James Marsh
Producer: Simon Chinn
Starring: Bob Angelini as Lab Tech, Bern Cohen as Dr. William Lemmon, Reagan Leonard as Stephanie LaFarge
Also starring: James Marsh
Those bright sparks at Pixar have done it again, taking a fiercely original approach to...
Slick direction and meaty performances may be enough for some viewers, but this boxing drama's...
Loose and impressionistic, this beautifully shot film traces the career of a DJ who pioneered...
Without a single moment of originality, this found-footage horror movie really deserves to be the...
An intriguing premise keeps the audience gripped for about 20 minutes before the movie runs...
The increasingly stale Marvel formula gets a blast of fresh air in this rollocking adventure...
An unusually inventive approach brings this story to life, as the filmmakers get into the...
Fans of the surprise 2012 hit Ted will find plenty to love in this sequel,...