Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5. United Kingdom/USA, 2011. Red Box Films, Passion Pictures, BBC Films. Based on the book Nim Chimpsky: The Chimp Who Would Be Human by Elizabeth Hess. Cinematography by Michael Simmonds. Produced by Simon Chinn. Music by Dickon Hinchliffe. Production Design by Markus Kirschner. Costume Design by Kathryn Nixon. Film Editing by Jinx Godfrey. Boston Film Critics Awards 2011. Las Vegas Film Critics Awards 2011. National Board of Review Awards 2011. Phoenix Film Critics Awards 2011. Washington Film Critics Awards 2011.
“It was the seventies!” is a terrific excuse for the experimental folly that is detailed in this incredibly entertaining documentary by James Marsh, director of the Oscar-winning Man On Wire. It follows a poorly supervised study begun by Dr. Herbert Terrace to chart the similarities between humans and apes, by having a family raise a chimpanzee in their home as if he were one of their own children and see if it develops an aptitude for human language. Almost from the beginning there are numerous issues: Nim, the subject in question, does not get along with his initial adopted father, eventually as he grows he physically becomes a problem (chimpanzees pack quite a bite), and then changes in funding authority dictate that he be moved to various facilities before finally finding a home at a ranch facility not that far above a very comfortable zoo. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and rarely has it been described on film so accurately, with Marsh contributing energetic direction and Dickon Hinchliffe a gorgeous musical score to accompany the lively interviews and rich stock footage.