See No Evil
Directed by Jos de Putter
Netherlands/Belgium, 75 min.
Programme: International Spectrum (North American Premiere)
Fans of the 2011 Hot Docs hit Project Nim will surely go ape for this year’s festival offering See No Evil. Directed by Jos de Putter, this doc offers an unexpected glimpse into the golden years of primates.
The film presents vignettes featuring three aged apes. Cheeta, an iconic actor of Tarzan fame, retires comfortably to Palm Springs where he eats cake and enjoys a second career painting “apestract” art. Kanzi, meanwhile, is a miracle of science, who teaches his son the language skills taught to him by Dr. Sue Savage Rumbaugh. Both profiles feature archival excerpts interspersed throughout de Putter’s observations, which illustrate how the trajectories of these apes aren’t much different from those of their human counterparts. A snippet of Cheeta, for example, shows him celebrating with a suds and a cigar; Kanzi, alternatively, reveals an indefatigable thirst for knowledge. The line between man and beast is a relatively fine and the first two acts of See No Evil show that there is much more to these creatures than meets the eye.
One could easily go bananas while discerning the overall argument that de Putter intends to make with these two apes. The third act, however, introduces a title card announcing “The Crippled” before it cuts to Knuckles, who lives in relative solitude. Knuckles takes viewers on some contemplative walks as his weary body betrays his age. The archival footage intercut in act three reveals scientific tests—including space exploration—that deteriorate the bodies of Knuckles and other endearing primates.
de Putter clinches the film with a moving epilogue that eulogizes the apes that weren’t as fortunate as Cheeta, Kanzi, and Knuckles. The surprisingly poignant endnote of See No Evil emphasizes the responsibility humans have towards their non-human counterparts. If apes can act their age, so too should humans.