Pin It
Favorite

Welcome to the Monkey House 

The heartbreaking story of one really bad animal experiment.

click to enlarge art17232.jpg

Bring a chimpanzee home, surround him with people, teach him to sign, raise him like a child. Hmmm, why is this all so familiar? Ah, yes, it’s the plot to Rise of the Planet of the Apes. And we all know what happened with that experiment.

It’s quite a bit more unsettling, though, to see similar things go wrong in real life, as they did when Columbia University psychology professor Herbert Terrace decided to take a young ape named Nim Chimpsky (linguistics students will get the connection) away from his mom, place him with a human family in a New York brownstone, and bring the cute little thing up as, for lack of a better term, their son.

But Terrace turned out to be a bad (if not mad) scientist, never setting tight controls for his experiment and eventually losing interest in it, opting for self-publicity over the chimp’s welfare. Terrace also seemed to be looking around more for research assistants to join him in the bedroom than work with his subject.

The documentary’s archival footage reveals Nim to be a good student, rapidly learning, then successfully using, sign language. Well, at least when the “scientists” involved weren’t giving him booze and pot or breastfeeding him because, as one woman volunteers, “It seemed natural.”

There was nothing natural about these people toying with inter-species assimilation in the mid-1970s, of course. And assimilation was never really possible. As Nim grew larger, he grew dangerous, partly because he was, well, a wild animal, and partly because the fools in charge didn’t administer any discipline. They just let him do whatever he wanted to do.

To say the experiment failed is an understatement, but Nim’s story goes far beyond what he was put through under Herb Terrace’s “care.”

Along with that archival footage and some home movies, director James Marsh (who also directed Man on Wire) gives us contemporary talking-head interviews with many of the folks who were involved with Nim, both during the project and after it was finished.

They tell a fascinating but ultimately frustrating and sad story, best summed up by saying that after Nim learned how to be a child, he was then required to be a chimp, but he didn’t know how. If Nim and a few well-intentioned people are the heroes of the story, Herb Terrace is the villain. Plaudits to Marsh, though, for not pointing fingers. He just lets it all play out on the screen. Everyone watching will agree that everything about the project was wrong.

Tags:

  • Pin It

Latest in Film

  • Slaying The Shark
  • Slaying The Shark

    Meru is one outdoors doc that knows a great story trumps great stunts
    • Aug 26, 2015
  • Third-World Problems
  • Third-World Problems

    Owen Wilson and Lake Bell take a stab at drama in No Escape
    • Aug 26, 2015
  • No Winning Side
  • No Winning Side

    Cartel Land offers an intense look at vigilantes fighting Mexican drug gangs on both sides of the border
    • Aug 19, 2015
  • More »

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Today | Sat | Sun | Mon | Tue | Wed | Thu
Daniel Amedee, Feral Anthem, Bad Koala

Daniel Amedee, Feral Anthem, Bad Koala @ Jones Radiator

Sat., Aug. 29, 9 p.m.

All of today's events | Staff Picks

or

More by Ed Symkus

  • Winning Reboot
  • Winning Reboot

    Somehow, Arnold's return to the Terminator franchise makes for solid sci-fi
    • Jul 1, 2015
  • Dog of a Story
  • Dog of a Story

    Max wastes a promising idea on forgettable characters
    • Jun 24, 2015
  • More »

Most Commented On

  • Spokane Sounds Like...

    The music we're more likely to listen to than any other city
    • Aug 19, 2015
  • Paternity Leave

    Has Wilco finally moved away from the 'dad rock' label?
    • Aug 12, 2015
  • More »

Top Tags in
Music & Film

Music


Film


Punk


Review


Festival


© 2015 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation