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Review of Koko: A Talking Gorilla (1978)

I really didn't find the title or the premise of Koko, a Talking Gorilla to be very intriguing going into it. But after seeing Barbet Schroeder's haunting General Idi Amin Dada: A Self Portrait several years ago, I was wanting to see something similar from him again. The subject matter is virtually the same as the previous documentary but this time a gorilla is the subject, a six-year old named Koko. Throughout the film she is paired with Penny Patterson, a graduate student in psychology and she constantly works at teaching Koko proper behaviour, various words and sign language. This may not sound like spectacular subject matter but Koko seems to have intelligence not seen in other apes and she is able to literally have two-way verbal communication with Penny. Of course Koko can't actually talk back but she can respond with sign language or actions to all of or most of Penny's commands and phrases, which makes it so fascinating to watch. And she seems to possess a self-awareness I don't think I have ever seen in another animal. She can tell that she is looking at herself in a mirror and she can even recognize herself on television. She also wears clothing, plays with dolls and can remember and recall previous experiences. There is even a moment in the film where Koko had just been glancing at a book and puts it down, then she goes back to it to find a particular page because it showed her favourite colour. She also sometimes behaves in the same mischievous manner a young child would, which understandably would seem to indicate at what level her intelligence is working at. By the end of the film it is argued that Koko is becoming too "humanized" for her own good and she thus would deem other gorillas to be inferior. But if communication can be established with another species, what could be wrong with that? It's almost as if she is bridging a gap that our two species started on tens of thousands of years ago, a gap that seems very small when watching her.
Added by Shaun
8 years ago on 5 June 2011 18:05