Project Nim

By February 12, 2012 7 Comments
Reading time: 2 minutes

I saw Project Nim last night, which I had heard a lot about. It kept coming up in many top ten documentary lists this year and it didn’t disappoint. It’s a fascinating look into the 1970’s experiment where they tried to raise a chimp as a human and see if they could teach it sign language.

There were quite a lot of cute parts with baby monkeys doing baby monkey things. But then when baby monkeys grow up, they start doing things that make you realize they’re a wild animal. They’ll lash out and bite you or wreck your home. That’s kind of what happened and little Nim Chimpsky got moved from home to home with different teachers who all claimed they could do it better. What resulted was a confused chimp who was really being unfairly raised outside of his natural environment. He couldn’t really “be” a monkey like he should be.

Whether you’re an animal rights activist or not, you’ll see how incompetent some of these people really were. And the professor who started the project seemed to be more interested in his own esteem and getting with all his female teachers! Kind of whack if you ask me.

But then a guy named Bob Ingersoll came in who actually seemed to respect the fact that Nim was a monkey and treated him as such. Eventually though he got taken back to the laboratory and locked in a cage with other chimps. He was scared and didn’t know how to act around them. That part of the movie got really sad.

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I don’t need to go into more detail, but it was definitely a fascinating movie. Directed by James Marsh who did Man on Wire and I’ve heard referred to as the “British Errol Morris” due to his more cinematic documentary style. Project Nim was awesome.

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StephannDawn ForsytheJeff FinleyNewmanMatt Recent comment authors

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5 stars!


wow this is incredible! I’m going to have to watch the entire film, seems very interesting.


Project Nim was one of the most amazing films I’ve seen in a long while. It was a roller-coaster ride of heart-ache and elation. If you want to learn more about the lives of captive chimps you might check out


Koko the talking gorilla still has a chance for a happy ending, but the gorilla foundation hasn’t been able to get funding to complete the Maui Ape Perserve project, so it’ still kind of sad.
You can follow more at Koko is now 40 years old, and still living in captivity.

Jeff Finley

Yeah I remember Koko! That was also a good movie too. Have you heard about Oliver the “humanzee” ? He was crazy!

Dawn Forsythe

Excellent review, terrific blog!

There’s a new book, The Song of the Ape, that delves deeper into the question of apes using sign language. It sounds like a book like that would be boring, I know, but I couldn’t put it down. It is actually absorbing and, at times, kind of tough emotionally. The author explores whether Nim, Washoe (before Nim) and Koko are actually using language, or whether we would all (human and great ape) might be better off if we learn THEIR language. I’ve written a mini-review at


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