Film Micrœview #238: Primate (1974)

09.26.2015 § 1 Comment

Primate

Rating: Good.

It’s difficult not to cringe throughout 75% of this film. But the scientists are not cruel or insensitive. Their work is tough, both physically and psychologically, but someone’s got to do it. If one believes that scientific progress is important, then one believes that experimentation such as what is documented here is necessary. The line of empathy is arbitrary, and utilitarianism can be very hazy and indirect. How many human lives could be saved or drastically improved through the suffering of much fewer of our closest animal relatives? Wiseman, especially in his older films I’ve noticed, often leaves the most rhetorical moments of his films to the end, as if to leave us to think for ourselves throughout the experience, but then not to be shy at the end about what it’s meant to him; in this film he includes a scene of scientists discussing their work, and how collecting information, even when it’s not immediately useful, often goes on to become seriously important in the context of information discovered down the line. In other words, my sense is that Wiseman’s intent is to humanize the process of animal experimentation, to rub our noses in it and know people involved in it, so that we can see the true, sometimes horrible, face of the progress we advocate in our society.

Occasionally takes on a meta- feel, such as when a literally pipe-smoking bearded older white man scientist condescends to his female note taker while discussing sex & gender of gorillas.

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