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Monday, February 6, 2023

Movie Review: I Am (NR)

imfilmby Hannah Anderson

What I learned from the film “I AM” is that everything in the universe is interconnected, anger makes you stupid, and yogurt can read your aura.

Director Tom Shadyac is a mastermind when it comes to cinematography. Having directed the hit comedies “Liar Liar,” “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” and “Bruce Almighty,” “I AM” stands as his debut foray into non-fiction documentaries, complete with clever illustrations and a catchy soundtrack.

“I AM” takes a look at the problems in our world, and asks what we can do to help. While at times, the film feels like an advertisement for New Age ideology, its faith in humanity’s ability to change is very refreshing.

The film begins with Shadyac describing his successful film career and the extravagant lifestyle that came with it. Then, about five minutes into the film, the mood drastically changes. Shadyac tells of a 2007 cycling accident that left him with a concussion, followed by Post Concussion Syndrome, which he says is often characterized by depression or suicidal tendencies. It was during this stage in his life that he recalls standing in the middle of his multi-million dollar Beverly Hills mansion and suddenly realizing that all of the wealth he had accumulated hadn’t made him any happier.

He says that it was at this point in his life he thought maybe he had gotten it all wrong; maybe life isn’t just about financial success and power. So, he set out to find the truth.

During his journey to enlightenment, Shadyac sells his house, moves to a trailer park, and talks with notable historians, clergymen, scientists, and authors, to try and answer the questions: What’s wrong with our world? What can we do about it? These professionals come to the conclusion that humans are what is wrong with the world, and we can help by being loving and compassionate toward others, and by turning away from our selfish materialistic ways.

Some of the film’s statements are pretty corny (ie. the line “John Lennon was right: love is all we need.”), but most of the images and examples Shadyac chooses, including very personal interviews with his own father, vividly get the point across and leave the viewer feeling empowered to go out and change the world.

Shadyac tells a story about an indigenous tribe where the hunters go out daily to find food, then return to share the food with the tribe. He then asks what would happen if the best hunters decide that it’s not fair for them to have to share their day’s work with the others. These hunters begin storing up the excess food, leaving the rest of the tribe to fend for themselves or starve.

He follows the illustration with images of homeless people in the United States, and naked, malnourished African children to point out that our society values the hunters’ selfish mindset. Shadyac  suggests that it’s (literally) crazy for us to aim to accumulate so much wealth when there are billions around the world who are starving. The experts he spoke with also equated our materialism with mental illness.

So, I sat there next to my Vera Bradley bag, feeling guilty, worried that someone was going to pop out and take me away to a mental institution.

I left the theatre with a conviction to turn away from my materialistic ways. One block later I saw Filene’s Basement. So much for casting off consumerism.

Unfortunately, that’s the problem with lessons like these. When you’re in the theater, church or wherever else you hear a “love thy neighbor” message, the concept sounds great. But, an hour, maybe two hours later we’re back to our old ways. In the film Shadyac encourages us to take this message to heart and spread the love to everyone we come into contact with. He argues this is the only way we can help mend the world.

The film is not rated, but while it does not contain any particularly objectionable material or questionable language, anyone under 13 would likely have trouble paying attention after the videos of little girls accidentally kicking their fathers in the groin end and the discussions with professionals begin. As is the case when viewing many non-fiction documentaries, parents should probably leave younger children at home for this one.

If you don’t mind a little idealism, go see “I Am.” Because, at a time when a heartbreaking disaster recently killed nearly 10,000 of our fellow humans and left millions without food or shelter, an optimistic call for compassion may be precisely what is needed.

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