The appliance of science

Project Nim gives the scientific method a long withering stare, and in the process deserves a place on the Christmas lists of scientists everywhere, ready to be produced the next time someone asks why their profession can sometimes have such trouble getting from A to B. It won’t answer the question, but it’ll prove that at the moment when the rational men involved realise they might have been building on sand, the shadow behind the eyes always looks the same.

James Marsh’s documentaries bear all the hallmarks of his parallel career as director of fiction, which is a polite way of saying that his knack for using the techniques of one in the context of the other plays the audience like a harp. Compared to the atmospherics of Werner Herzog or Asif Kapadia, Marsh’s tactics are positively tub-thumping. But in the circumstances, given the film’s clear and proper biases, his decision to let the researchers who inserted themselves into the life of Nim Chimpsky speak for themselves with a minimum of on-screen demonization or ridicule and their dignity intact was surely the right approach. The audience will supply the incredulity when required.

But the point about Nim from a science perspective is that the project’s instigator, the easily mocked for several reasons Herb Terrace, came to realise that he was on a hiding to nothing. At which point that shadow behind the eyes is on full display. A lay audience will see it as just desserts. A science audience may see it as that, plus something rather more illuminating about the price of certainty. Since the trickster god of film distribution has arranged for Project Nim and Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes to come out at the same time, everyone involved should probably be grateful that poor Nim didn’t pick up a jawbone and go to town.

I spoke to Bob Ingersoll, originally a primate studies student and now a tireless advocate for Nim’s legacy and the welfare of animals used in scientific research, at the Edinburgh International Film Festival for Little White Lies.

Up next Chris Weitz and A Better Life The absence of grit in A Better Life is more about director Chris Weitz taking a thought experiment out for a spin than any lack of nerve. All the Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy review Trace almost anything interesting in new films back a bit and Alex Cox will pop up at some point. The man links Ed Harris and Miguel Sandoval with
Latest posts Hypericum Sundance Film Festival 2024 Comics of the year 2023 Films of the year 2023 Golda X-Amount of Comics Edinburgh Film Festival 2023 Stan Lee Tribeca Film Festival 2023 I Am The Law: How Judge Dredd Predicted Our Future Sundance Film Festival 2023 Comics of the year 2022 Films of the year 2022 Sight and Sound Greatest Films poll 2022 Shortwave infrared imaging The Legend of Luther Arkwright Crimes of the Future Luda and Grant Morrison Acting Class and Nick Drnaso Tribeca Film Festival 2022 Tigers and Goal! Project MK-Ultra Zero Fucks Given SXSW Film Festival 2022 High-tech glass inspection The Matrix Resurrections Sundance Film Festival 2022 Comics of the year 2021 Films of the year 2021 Foundation Year, Dune No Time to Die