Project Nim – 2011 – dir. James Marsh
“What we have here is a failure to communicate.” Or, do we? In the documentary Project Nim, director James Marsh reexamines the well-publicized attempt by Professor Herbert Terrace, a behavioral psychologist at Columbia University, to test whether we can talk to the animals. Nim Chimpsky, his name a play on the linguist Noam Chomsky, would be taken into a human home and raised as one of the family, exposed to all human forms of communication, verbal and nonverbal, while being taught sign language. The LaFarge family was a hippie-bookish blend of kids, dogs and the usual controlled chaos of domesticity. The mother was an ex-student of the professor, as well as an ex-student-affair. No one in the family knew sign language. Mature chimps are aggressive and not shy of biting; an adult male chimp can weigh 150 pounds and be over 5 feet in length. But baby chimps are cute! And it was the seventies. What could possibly go wrong?