May 04, 2018
Jane Goodall and chimpanzees: the story is so well known – what could possibly be fresh about this new documentary called “Jane”?
How about over 100 hours of never-before-seen footage of Jane living in the wild in Gombe in the early 60’s? The footage, discovered in 2014, was shot by Hugo van Lawik, a renowned wildlife photographer.
What I found surprising about this film is its intimate look into mothers and their relationships to their children, both chimp, and human, making it a timely treat to watch for Mother’s Day.
The story begins when Dr. Louis Leakey, a Kenyan anthropologist, is looking for someone to do a research study about chimpanzees, someone with no scientific bias, a love for animals, an open mind and monumental patience. Enter Jane Goodall.
Even as a little girl, Jane wanted to live in Africa among that animals, to “talk to the animals like Dr. Doolittle and move among them like Tarzan.” (Kind of fitting that her name is Jane, right?)
The film is lush and beautiful, capturing an Africa that is glorious in its vivid colors, teeming with every type of creature. The magnificence of wildlife in its natural habitat is stunning. The music by Phillip Glass is a perfect accompaniment.
The photography alone is a visual treat – add the exceptional fact of Jane going to live in Gombe when she was just 26 years old, with no credentials, and it becomes a fascinating story. Her mother went with her because it wasn’t considered safe for Jane to live alone.
Of her mother, Jane says: “the most important part about my mother is that she listened, she was always fair she was never angry without a reason, she supported me in my love of animals. She never said, ‘well, you’re just a girl, you can’t do that. Why don’t you dream about something you can achieve?’ It was my mother who built up my self-esteem.”
The development of her relationship with the chimps is thrilling to watch, such a rare thing to witness the establishment of trust and contact with a woman and wild animals. Their behavior can be hilarious, heartwarming and sometimes frightening. Seeing a huge chimp take a banana out of Jane’s hand is triumphant, and also a tiny bit scary.
Old Flo, the dominant female in the group, has a baby boy Jane names, Flint. It’s the first time a mother/child relationship had been documented from infancy.
The shots of Flint in Flo’s arms are irresistibly sweet. Flo cares for him, “affectionate, tolerant and nurturing”. Watching Flint stumble around & fall over like all toddlers is so endearing and funny.
Flo, according to Jane, “was all things a chimp mother should be, protective, but not overly protective, affectionate, playful, but being supportive, that was the key” ….”and of course, that’s what my mother was, she supported me”
Jane’s relationship with Flo & her family was very important to Jane’s development. “It was just so amazing to have this kind of relationship.” They are so close that it feels like Flo might ask Jane to babysit Flint while she goes off for some “me time” to go climb a tree.
What makes the footage especially compelling is that Hugo and Jane fall in love before our eyes, and so a beautiful film about the African wild also becomes a beautiful glimpse into their budding romance.
Hugo leaves Gombe, but quickly sends a telegram proposing marriage, so charming and romantic, and certainly of another era.
When Jane and Hugo’s own son is born, he’s nicknamed Grub. Jane thought she would scientifically observe his development, as she had done with Flo & her baby, but decides she simply wants to be with him for the first years of his life (her students & field staff continued the study).
For maternal advice, she looked to her own mother, Dr. Spock, and Flo. With Grub, she learned how powerful mother love can be.
“Jane” is a gorgeous, inspiring film about a woman who lived her dream to live among the animals and her own journey into a remarkable motherhood in the wild.
The film is not all sweetness and light (it is the jungle, people). But it is magnificent – stirring and poignant, and significantly similar to our own human lives in many ways.
If you’d like an excursion into some of the most beautiful nature on the planet, with an unforgettable cast of chimps and an indefatigable woman, consider making “Jane” a part of your Mother’s Day.
Available on Amazon, iTunes, Hulu, YouTube, and Google Play