The movie is about chimpanzees at home, messing around, carrying on, and getting through life. The other parts are about Miss Goodall and her relationship with chimpanzees. Miss Goodall, a remarkable British naturalist, has observed, befriended and pondered them for years. ”Among the Wild Chimpanzees,” producers uses old and new film of Miss Goodall, put together as a chronicle. At the suggestion of the anthropologist Louis Leakey, she traveled in 1960 to a remote part of Tanganyika, now Tanzania, to live in a tent, and, as the film narrator says, ”make scientific history.” She was 26 years old, a slim figure in khaki shorts, armed mostly with binoculars and persistence. Miss Goodall happily seems to see herself mostly as a naturalist. She has remained in Africa; leaving only to lecture once a year, while students from around the world travel to her camp. The film suggests that Miss Goodall, who seems like a modest person, lives a fulfilled life. Meanwhile, we see the chimpanzees. In the beginning, Miss Goodall says, they avoided her.
For 18 months she sat, waiting for acceptance. Then they approached, allowing her into the group. She has discovered, among other things, that they use simple tools and that sometimes they are predators, killing and eating young baboons. The first discovery, the narrator says, ”rocked the scientific world”; the second ”shocked” it. For a viewer, however, the first discovery is interesting, and the second a little sad. The chimpanzees are seen as energetic animals, full of curiosity, and with finely developed senses of parental, particularly maternal, responsibility. It is pleasant to think of them as benign vegetarians, especially because they rather resemble us in so many other ways. Still, the world is a tough place, and we also see film of chimps brutalizing other chimps. Two separate communities of chimpanzees once settled near Miss Goodall’s camp, and the males from one community, three to six at a time, took to ganging up and attacking lone males from the other. Why the violence?
”I really have no idea,” Miss Goodall says, although she explains that chimps learn from and imitate other chimps. Aberrant and aggressive behavior seems to be taught, just as the use of tools to pry out termites, leaves to soak up water is taught. However behavioral scientists care to interpret the phenomenon of chimp aggression, Miss Goodall seems to lean to the bad seed theory: A chimp gone wrong is simply born that way; then he influences others. There is also footage of well-behaved chimpanzees, some of whom show fear, jealousy, anger, warmth and other recognizable states of being. Viewers will enjoy a visit to Miss Goodall’s small world. I enjoyed the film.