In those last years of chimpanzee Koko’s life, the film lens was trained squarely on the most beautiful side of our often obscured natural history. And there is beauty in this documentary for a related and far less earthy reason. The hypnotic sight of Koko swinging around her pool in this perfection of beauty is more than a mere fashion statement. She’s a symbol of hope.
“Jane” — which opens today in New York — chronicles the life of Jane Goodall and her work with apes over the past four decades. And so even as this is an uplifting portrait of the professor at London’s Natural History Museum who was so famously incensed at being typecast as a caring but distant scientist, it’s also a sad one.
“Living with Jane” focuses on her healing relationship with Koko, who has special needs due to a mysterious illness but who is nonetheless captivating, almost childlike in her effervescence. Koko’s amazing brain turns water and soup into perfume and hair into ribbons — words usually lost to us in the fog of Google — and “Jane” captures all this with extraordinary observational skill.
“Jane” is enhanced with high-definition documentary photography and, in a move both uplifting and responsible, it’s being presented in theaters as the first one-time sale of a film to a nonprofit. There’s also talk of a giant-screen release. (The film is also available to view via streaming and VOD.) This story does seem to have come full circle.