Midnight Cowboy, Chimpanzee Version

I just watched a repeat of the program “Chimpanzees:  An Unnatural History”, a documentary which originally appeared on the program “Nature” on PBS in November 2006. 

The program documents the use of chimps captured as babies in Africa for the following purposes:  entertainment (movies and circuses), space travel (send them up in a capsule and see what happens when they come back), the pet trade, pharmaceutical research, disease research (deliberately injecting them with AIDS or hepatitis, then performing repeated liver biopsies), high-velocity test crashes, and medical device tests.  In one case, they removed a vertebrae from a chimp, replaced it with an artificial one, then removed the artificial one, leaving the animal with a gap in its spine.  To see what would happen. 

Many of the chimps had a triple whammy, starting out as a circus animal, becoming a pet or vice versa, then being sold to a lab for testing. 

The story highlights the lives of several individual chimps, among them, Ron and Thoto.  Ron was an older chimp, 42 years old I believe, who had lived his entire life in a cage, at least since his capture.  He was living in a facility in Alamagordo, Mexico.  The people who took over that facility removed the walls between the cages–the best that they could do–so that the chimps could at least socialize with others.  And Ron made a friend–Thoto, who was much younger than he was.  The people in charge were working to move all the chimps at Alamagordo to sanctuaries, including one in central Florida.  Then Ron developed congestive heart failure.  The people at Alamagorda were determined that he be free again before he died, so his transfer was accelerated and they sent Thoto with him, to calm him.

At the sanctuary, they opened the window to Ron’s cage, the first opportunity he’d had in 40 years to feel grass on his feet or see the sky.  Just outside the window was a sort of sidewalk.  And he couldn’t do it.  He paced for a short while along the concrete of the sidewalk, then climbed back into his window. 

Then they let Thoto out.  He raced across the grass and climbed a tree.  That he could remember how to climb a tree is amazing.  That night, they could never get him to come back in.  He spent the night outside under the full moon. 

His friend Ron could not remember how to climb a tree, if he ever knew how.

Remember that in Midnight Cowboy, Ratso Rizzo’s (Ron’s) dream is to move to Florida.  He spends long nights in his alley (cage) dreaming of what life will be like for him there.  He makes a friend (Thoto), who eventually makes it possible for him, except Ratso dies on the bus on the way there.  You get the sense that the dream and the friendship, rather than the actuality, was the important thing for Ratso–as it is perhaps for all of us.  And that Ratso would never have made it in real life in Florida…just like Ron.

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7 responses to “Midnight Cowboy, Chimpanzee Version

  1. You have a good memory Fakename..I saw Midnight Cowboy when it first came out but I sure can’t recall much of the plot.

    You know it’s dangerous to stoke my latent anti- captive animal feelings…. I may be provoked to demonstrate at the Jr. Museum…lol!

  2. Oh no….what have I set loose?

  3. Normally I don’t remember movies that well, but that one made such an impression on me. You’ll remember that Ratso befriends the Jon Voight character (whose movie name I can’t remember). Jon’s character is a hustler, who had dreams of his own. At last Jon tries to take Ratso to Florida. This morning I can’t get that song out of my head…Echoes of My Mind, I think it was called. I can only remember snippets…”..Going where the weather suits my clothes, heading (?) out of the Northeast wind, sailing on a summer breeze, skipping over the ocean like a stone…”

  4. That is exactly all that I remember about the movie.

    You may be able to find the theme song on You Tube.

  5. I’ve never seen that movie but after Brokeback Mountain the only cowboy movies I want to see have John Wayne, Randolph Scott, or Audie Murphy in them. So sorry about Ron though…

  6. BM (hmm…that may not be a good shortening of the name) is not so much a “film” as it is a political statement. MC is a “film”….

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