Amy J.L. Baker Ph.D.

Caught Between Parents

Parental Alienation in the Movies

What Nim tells us about parental alienation.

Posted May 18, 2012

A few nights ago I watched a movie called the Nim Project about the chimpanzee named Nim who was removed from his mother at just a few weeks of age and placed in the home of humans who would treat him like a human baby and try to teach him learn sign language. Two notable points about the movie related to parental alienation. The first is that when the baby chimp is taken from his mother’s arms (which is actually video taped at the time not reenacted for the movie) you can see the terrified baby cling to the woman who will raise him. At that moment this woman (who is loving albeit has some whacky ideas about raising Nim and whom he eventually develops a relationship with) is essentially an abductor. As terrified as he is by the actions of this woman, he nonetheless clings to her for comfort. She causes him pain and suffering but because she is the only warm body there, he tries to seek comfort from her. This is so poignant and says so much about humans (who share 99 percent of their DNA with chimps) who are hard wired to seek comfort when scared, even if the comforter is also the person creating the fear. The parallels with kidnapped children clinging to their kidnappers is hard to miss.

Second, there are threads of parental alienation in the ways in which the various adults lay claim to Nim and resent the relationship that he has with the other adults. If Nim could be manipulated to hate and fear, I cannot help but wonder if one or more of the caretakers would have tried to engineer his rejection of the others in order to secure their place as the favored “parent.” It shows, once again, how hard it is to share our “children” with other people.