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New Jane Goodall Documentary, JANE, May Be Too Pure for This World (Review)

There’s a point early on in Jane, the latest National Geographic documentary about Jane Goodall, at which the film explains how Goodall, without any scientific background, brought new insights to a field of study simply by using her humanity. Truly, it was her ability to empathize and truly relate with the struggle of the chimpanzees she was studying that made her an asset to the field. The belief that famed archaeologist and paleontologist Louis Leakey pioneered (not to mention her love of animals) is what made it all possible, changing the game for not only Goodall, but the entire scientific research game in general. It proved man isn’t the only one with exceptional humanity.

The Brett Morgen-directed (The Kid Stays in the Picture, Cobain: Montage of Heck), Philip Glass-scored documentary is truly one of the most absorbing and engaging looks at the oft-dissected Goodall. Created out of previously-thought-to-be-lost (for nearly 50 years!) footage of her early days—compiled by cameraman Hugo van Lawick, who would go on to be her husband for a time—Jane looks at how this younger chapter not only informed how she studied the animals, but also gave her insight for when she became a mother herself.

As Goodall put it when speaking with Nerdist, watching the film “reaffirmed … that childhood dream and the amazing influence of my mother that supported that dream when everyone else laughed at me [because I was a girl]. … And we need that desperately in these times, because we’re living in a very, very frightening world.”

The film also features new interview footage of Goodall conducted by Morgen, as well as excerpts from her audiobooks on her adventures in the Gombe forest in Africa. And while it’s all fairly standard in theory, what Morgen and his editor Joe Beshenkovsky have accomplished is lush and downright touching. A portrait so tender and earnest, so full of vivid life (thanks to a beautiful restoration of the footage) and soul, it will no doubt tear at the heart of even the biggest Grinch and make them realize just how connected we are to the animals and life on Earth.

Overall, the film focuses on Goodall’s early days and discoveries, but provides the sort of introspection only someone like Goodall could manage this far out: relentless optimism in the face of uncertainly and tremendous adversity. Her connection to the litany of chimpanzees you meet along the way further solidifies a fact hard to ignore if you’ve ever watched or seen any retrospective of her body of work—that humanity, learning, and innate intelligence are not for humans alone. The film is a love story dedicated to the pure way in which Jane lived her life: learning from it all and letting it all inform her. It’s an exceptional look at the strength of empathy and openness in a world seemingly hellbent on destroying such ways of living.

“I think what’ll come out of it is more young women—more people, too, not just women, but men in disadvantaged communities—will take out a sense of, ‘She did it. I can do it, too,'” Goodall told us. “We need that desperately in these times because we’re living in a very frightening world. For children who actually think about it, it is intimidating and daunting and makes them lose hope. … If you can say, ‘The world’s a mess. But you live here. And what you do here, you can see the result.’ I’ve cleaned the river, I’ve saved these animals, I’ve helped at a dog shelter. And then you know that there are young people just like you, with just the same passion, and they’re doing just the same good as you are.”

We could all learn something from Jane.

4 Out of 5 Tree-Swingin’ Burritos:

Jane hits theaters on October 20th, 2017. Are you going to see it? Let us know in the comments below.

Images: National Geographic

Alicia Lutes is the Managing Editor, creator/host of Fangirling, and resident Khaleesi of House Nerdist. Find her on Twitter!

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