Who are we? A very simple question with the most varied and complex of answers. Well, as a race we are far from perfect. You only need to switch the news on to find evidence of that with the majority of story’s revolving around violence, war and poverty, an array of terrible things we do to each other on a personal and global scale. But how did we end up this way? Where did we go so wrong? ‘I AM’, a truly powerful documentary film by director Tom Shadyac investigates why? For those unfamiliar with Shadyac, he is as he puts it, “the man to make Jim Carrey talk out of his arse,” a pun in identifying himself as the man who directed ‘Ace Ventura’, ‘Bruce Almighty’ and ‘The Nutty Professor’ amongst other comedies.
Inspired by his own personal journey which took a turn for the worse following a bad biking accident, Shadyac suffered from post concussion syndrome where he experienced eighteen months or so in a bewildered state of depression. It was during this turbulent period where he experiences an epiphany of some sort, questioning his own being and actions, bringing the perceived ultimate extravagant lifestyle he lead in a Beverly Hills mansion and flying in private jets around the world under scrutiny. Shadyac likens this to true “mental illness” and crucifies himself for being so blind, living in an apparent richer state of mind when a fraction of his wealth could make thousands of lives better for so many more people. Consequently, he sells his mansion, preferring to live in an area of moderate conditions, starts bicycling to work while taking a job as a teacher, and becomes much more charitable and thoughtful as a human being, proving to himself that the notion of wealth making you happy is nothing more than a poisoned myth, and that true happiness is sealed within. But he begs to ask the question on a more global level. Armed with only a few crew members, he takes off around the world, interviewing influential people including top of the field scientists, authors, historians and religious leaders from all over to uncover the mysteries of who we are, shedding light on some mind blowing theories posed by those highly respected in their fields of study.
The film looks at several aspects to prove who we are, exploring important questions like where did this distortion to mankind happen? The truth is it’s been happening for centuries, but the more recent aspect uses Gordon Gekko’s analogy in the film, ‘Wall Street’ as a reason for the recent blinded mind set. Gekko states “Greed is Good” and that statement alone is the basic quote that surmises where we’ve gone wrong. The idea of the American Dream is nothing more than a shattered illusion and we’ve been brainwashed into thinking that competition in prosperity is good. It’s this cancerous ideal of greed that’s spread like wildfire across the western world where the quest for personal gain has grown to out of control proportions, forgetting about our fellow man and the true meaning of happiness and being decent. We’ve somehow evolved beyond Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, believing that when our basic needs are met then we can experience similar satisfaction and happiness by jumping further and further again into uncontrollable materialism, but this couldn’t be further from the truth as Shadyac has experienced and identified.
Evidence of our reasons for being is constantly provided through the film using mind blowing experiments and footage to back up the view that we’ve gone against nature’s intent, even going as far to say that science has been proven wrong to the point that religion and spirituality has been correct in some respects. A truly eye opening experiment involving proof of the heart being psychic, and one involving electrodes and yoghurt will have you questioning everything that you’ve ever believed in, even supporting the concept of positive thinking having an effect around us. These are scientists proving these theories, putting their reputations on the line stating that in some respect, science has to catch up with some laws in religion/spirituality. What have always been ideals constantly against each other has now seen one side embrace the other, and is a remarkable step in itself. Even Darwen’s theory of “survival of the fittest” is proved to be a misconception that was wrongly prophesised instead of his earlier works, which states the true theory behind human emotion, namely that sympathy is the strongest trait in a human being and the basis of nature is cooperation. This is just the tip of the iceberg as to what this film identifies. Using the knowledge and wisdom of some of the most philosophical minds on the planet, you cannot but help pay attention and question everything around you.
‘I AM’ is one of the most powerful, inspiring, quotable and thought provoking films I’ve ever had the pleasure to watch. It really connects with the mind, body and soul, imploring you to ask questions yourself. It’s hard to shake off even after it’s finished, but somehow you don’t want to shake it off such is its magnetism to make you want to deeply reflect, believe and act. It makes you think a little differently, unlearning what you’ve learnt. Shadyac is not saying that we all have to become hippies and get heavily involved in whatever cause like a glorified do gooder. It’s about doing what you can and believing in it, whether that’s from giving money to charity, to voluntary work in any hospital/nursing home, or whether it’s just being sympathetic and helping someone by just being there for them in a time of need. It starts from within and the film is a message to try and make you think differently and to be more mindful, helpful and respectful to one another. We live in a media driven world dominated by celebrity culture and reality shows, but the truth is that this is the truest reality show you could ever witness. It’s a message to those with stupendous great fortune who crave more. How can they justify such actions? Why not relinquish some of it for greater causes rather than be hell bent on feeding their own egos and keeping their status’ intact because of their own insecure needs. It’s about realising that these people aren’t happy, money doesn’t make you happy. The grass is never greener when you think of the prospect of being a millionaire. It’s about identifying who we are and what nature’s law says makes us tick. It’s about identifying good and greatness in the world, and Shadyac points out that the film started out as being what’s wrong with the world, but it ended up being about what’s right. It’s about adhering to emotions defined in our DNA that appeases our hearts and minds. As a Buddhist monk states in the film when asked, what is the best form of meditation? The answer is “Critical thinking and action, do what makes your heart dance!” A law to live by! This is a film that I cannot recommend enough to buy. To quote Shadyac himself, you’d be “mentally ill” not to view it.
I AM is available in the UK on DVD from 18th February.