Jane (Death & Primate Aggression)


(SPOILER ALERT) I missed seeing Jane, the documentary on Jane Goodall by Brett Morgan when it was out in the theaters. It aired last night on television on the National Geographic channel. Taking a break from I Claudius and from thinking about my undergraduate Holocaust course, this is not what I was expecting. Morgan’s interview with Goodall interspliced with the old National Geographic footage shot by her collaborator and first husband Hugo van Lawick was, naturally, the centerpiece of the film. What one expected was precisely the footage documenting chimpanzees, chimpanzee sociality, chimpanzee intelligence, as well as Goodall’s personal life. So much of it was profoundly affecting, as was what one may have been surprised to see, this being the mortal coil of primate existence: watching the ravages of a polio outbreak on the group at Gombe, the old age and dying of Flo, the reaction by her son who, never able to detach from his mother, simply wastes away and dies of grief, and then the splitting in two of the group and the total extermination of one half by the stronger half in the descent of civil war, over which all hangs the threat of species extinction. Jane makes for aching nostalgia and painful allegory, a meditation on life and then death. The circle never quite closes in the film, which I think reflects our current mood and moment.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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2 Responses to Jane (Death & Primate Aggression)

  1. mghamner says:

    What a beautiful commentary. I’ve not seen it, but I know Goodall’s story very well.

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