The Jane Goodall Documentary

An open letter to Brett Morgan.

Posted Mar 13, 2018

Image taken from the movie
Source: Image taken from the movie

I saw your documentary ‘Jane’ last night. You don’t need me to tell you it was perfecto. She was clearly destined to fulfill her passion. I am impressed that you stayed away from pandering which would have been very easy to do. You showed the fullness of her character and struggles, consistent with ‘Montage of Heck’. Personal sacrifice always accompanies such single-minded devotion, especially in terms of her family life. With the counterpoint between Flo and Flint, and Jane and Grub, Flo certainly shone through with her mothering. As is so often the case, Jane’s incredibly important work took priority. But there is a trade-off. Also for two powerful individuals like Jane and her husband, neither could, nor should, subjugate themselves to the other. Over time the divorce seemed inevitable. His fantastic Serengeti footage and photos highlighted what a master he was. It is interesting that Grub ended up living near his father.

 I loved that Jane was not educated in the ideas that many scientists have, that animals have no feelings, or organized relational culture. Anthropomorphism could be the dumbest concept of all time. Her work did so much to challenge such stupidity. There are many scientists who still subscribe to it. She so effectively illuminated the culture of chimpanzee life, as individuals in an extended group. You came to love them.

 It is also interesting that she was conscious that she had to use her beauty to help get funding, to keep her mission alive.

 I was particularly affected by the inclusion of the dark side of primate nature, the genocide that took place after Flo’s death. From the scenes of the Serengeti, we saw the stark nature of predation with the hyenas and lions. But consistent with primate nature, the chimps warred against their own cousins. They killed them not for food, nor sexual competition, nor territory. It was a genocidal war. We primates need to understand our nature to best deal with our own demons. Jane’s work serves as a looking glass for us to see ourselves.

 The visuals were amazing. The old footage brought the reality of her lonely and dangerous work to life so effectively.

Thank you, Brett, for bringing this documentary to us.