There is a strange irony in the appalling trajectory of “Lucy the Human Chimp,” a documentary about an experience which forced a chimpanzee to live as a human, but which resulted in requiring a human to live like a chimpanzee. .
That would be Janis Carter, whose unchallenged voice and painful features dominate the screen as she tells Lucy’s distressing story. As a student in the 1970s, Carter was hired as Lucy’s keeper by psychologists Maurice K. Temerlin and his wife, Jane, who had purchased the newborn chimpanzee about a decade earlier and raised her in as a human in their suburban home.
But Lucy – who slept on a king-size mattress, communicated in sign language, and made herself a nasty cocktail – had grown so tall and dangerously hormonal that the Temerlins decided she would be better off in the African jungle. (Never mind that she was an adult who knew nothing about wild chimpanzees or the like.) Her cries during the flight were just a harbinger of torment to come.
Alternately alarming and poignant, Alex Parkinson’s film of infuriating deference tells how Carter – passionately attached to Lucy and, admittedly, ignorant of how to facilitate her adjustment – gave up her life to live with Lucy on an island. isolated. Her dedication is extraordinary, but her unconsciousness is shocking: if you, like her, believed that Lucy saw herself as human, why would you force her to live like a wild animal? Neither that question, nor any other, is asked by Parkinson, who uses archival footage and amazed reenactments to tell what he apparently sees as a love story. Maybe it is; but it is also a heartbreaking story of animal suffering and human pride.
Lucy, the human chimpanzee
Unclassified. Duration: 1 hour 8 minutes. Watch on HBO Max.