“Project Nim”

In the film, Project Nim, an experiment is conducted in which a chimp is raised from birth as if it is a human child, and then the chimp is taught sign language. The purpose of this experiment was intended to see if the language barrier between human and animals could be broken. The premise of the film was originally to see if an animal raised in a human environment could develop human-like characteristics to replace certain animal-like characteristics, so that the development of language can happen. The film focuses on a certain Chimp, named Nim, and the progress he makes with his sign language and the development of his relationships with other humans. However, as the film continues on, the argument of this experiment makes a dramatic shift towards ethical values, rather than scientific ones. In the beginning of the movie, Nim is removed from the custody of his mother and placed with a human family in hopes that he could be raised like a human child. This creates a problem in which there is already emotional damage created from the separation of mother and child. Another problem arises as Nim grows older and larger. He becomes more like the strong, domineering chimp that he was born to be. He becomes too much for his adoptive family to handle, so he is moved to a house that is secluded away with his new care takers. Once the biting and violent fits start to happen, the team realize that this experiment is not worth the damage it is creating and that Nim is not actually learning how to communicate, rather just learning to manipulate his caretakers. The attempt of Project Nim to take the natural born instincts of an animal out created emotional damage to all involved. Nim ends up going to an experimental lab and then a “safe haven” in which he is cut off from almost all contact. After being raised in such a human-like way, Nim is thrown back into the animal world without any pre-conditioning to help him with this transition. He is also cut off his “human” life and from the only people he viewed as his “parents” and other caretakers. This ultimately creates a sense of sadness and anger in Nim towards the experimental team. Project Nim’s argument becomes more focused on the ethical values of choosing whether or not to partake in the removal from an animal from its natural habitat to prevent the severe emotional damage it will create in the animal. This film shifts from a question of “can we?” to “should we?” – a question which all involved will surely answer “no.”


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