National Geographic’s Jane: Movie Review


By: Haylee Fisher (@haylee_fisher)

There is no doubt Jane Goodall is a hero. Her life’s work has been devoted to the research and conservation of chimps and she has inspired generations with her tireless efforts in animal welfare. She is considered the world’s leading expert in chimps, but how did she get started? And how can her journey pave the way for others in the future?

In Jane, director Brett Morgen explores just that. Using previously unseen footage of her expeditions and field work, Morgen shines a light on what makes Goodall tick. It’s so far beyond just a love of chimps – it’s a maternal instinct. And her chimps reciprocate those feelings right back to Goodall. They know each other. They love each other. They’re family.

It’s easy to see where Goodall gets her passion and why she felt so supported pursuing her interests. Her mother is shown at the beginning of the film, offering encouragement and affection, and later it’s clear she receives the same devotion from her husband (who started off as a wildlife photographer and who shot much of the early footage in the film) and son.

So many times, documentaries can be boring. They can be tired and repetitive and not something an audience is jumping up and down to see. However, Jane is anything but boring. Morgen masterfully weaves the stories of Goodall’s early observations while creating a narrative arc that may not always be chronological, but is captivating. When Goodall first began her studies, she was a 26-year-old with no scientific degree and who hoped simply to gain acceptance from the chimps. Not only did that happen, but she discovered and reported on how chimps possess similarities to humans from toolmaking skills to communication capabilities and their predilection toward violence and in turn became the foremost primatologist in the world today.

Because so much of the story is told through narration, the music had to strike a balance – it had to both fill in gaps and not intrude on the action. Phillip Glass employs techniques he is known for – like sweeping, assertive melodies – to great affect in Jane.

There are scenes in Jane that will stay with you, from a baby chimp learning to walk to another expressing affection and thanks to Goodall. Because of these and so many more moments, you can’t help but feel inspired and empowered. Goodall was underestimated because she’s a woman, but it’s her mothering, nurturing temperament that has served as an asset during her studies. The lessons Goodall learns in the wild then parallel her life and even more so her role as a mother and those correlations Morgen makes are pure revelations. Through Jane, it is clear Morgen hopes Goodall’s story will serve as an inspiration for future generations, but most especially young girls who may want to one day follow in Goodall’s footsteps, and if this film is any indication, it is a path Goodall herself would no doubt encourage.

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