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Documentary Review - Director Tom Shadyac Ventures into Non-Fiction with "I Am" (2011)

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Director Tom Shadyac

Most people will be familiar with Tom Shadyac, if at all, as the Director of such comedies as Bruce Almighty, Liar Liar, The Nutty Professor, and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. “I Am” is his first venture into non-fiction documentary. There is a reason, though.

In 2007, Tom Shadyac had a serious bicycle accident from which he suffered post-concussion syndrome, sometimes called MTBI (mild traumatic brain injury). He thought he would die from this. He eventually recovered after having examined his past life in detail during his ordeal, and was prompted to give away his fortune, open a homeless shelter in Virginia, simplify his life, and move into a trailer park.


Desmond Tutu

                                                               Archbishop Desmond Tutu

He wrestled with two questions: “What’s wrong with the world?” and “What can we do about it?” To find answers, Shadyac conducted interviews on tape with well-known scientists, religious leaders, writers, and philosophers, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Noam Chomsky, Lynne McTaggart, David Suzuki, Elisabeth Sahtouris, and Howard Zinn.

Some may consider Shadyac’s search for answers as fruitless, but I, for one, was intrigued at the direction in which all the conversations meshed.


It starts with the premise that most people consider that materialism is the path to happiness. People are driven to accumulate. Stuff makes us happy. The economy is the most important thing in our lives. As the fictional Gordon Gekko put forth in the film “Wall Street,” greed is good. After his life-changing accident, Shadyac realized that his material possessions did not bring him happiness. He felt that he was a prime example of conspicuous consumption that is looked on as a sign of mental illness in many native cultures throughout the world.


Noam Chomsky

                                                                        Noam Chomsky


The intellectual minds that he picked in his documentary took him in a whole other direction. These deep thinkers surprised us all by offering the truth that we, as a species, are hard-wired for cooperation rather than competition. It is in our DNA. The fundamental nature of man is essentially benevolent and not cruel.

Compassion creates endorphins. We have observed our nearest relatives, the chimpanzees, who have a DNA similar to humans, and they always share food with each other and care for each other. It is possible that goodness, generosity, and altruism might actually be our most important genetic traits.

Animal Behavior

The film depicted a herd of deer who require water several times a day. It was apparent that decisions had to be made concerning when to go to the waterhole, which waterhole they would go to, and how were the decisions to be made. It was a lesson in democracy at work; they voted each time about the when and where. Again, cooperation and democracy is in the DNA of all creatures.

It has been noted in apes, elephants, and dolphins that when they see someone suffering, they feel it. We, all of us, function better in a state of love than of separation. We are all part of a universal energy field. Nothing is separate; we are all inter-connected; connected with all of life more than we realize. We are born to be our brother’s keeper. We are far grander than we know. We are part of a greater whole.

Our inter-connectedness

An interesting sidebar in the discussion spoke about random number generators. During the 9/11 crisis at the World Trade Center, it was noticeable that numbers stopped generating randomly, only showing the binary numbers 1 and 0. I did not get the point of this except that it was in the discussion of our inter-connectedness to all things.

Another phenomenon that was mentioned is the occurrence of pre-feeling in humans. People are aware of what is about to happen. We have all had that happen at one time or another.


I Am

It is unclear whether Tom Shadyac was convinced by these intellectuals when they offered their font of learning. I believe there are more questions raised as a result of this documentary than there are answers. Shadyac did claim to find his answer to “What’s wrong with the world?” He states that we can all say “I Am.”

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Dec 23, 2014 11:05am
This was quite interesting. I wasn't aware of how animals decide like that. I haven't seen the documentary, so I can't address what they were talking about with binary numbers, but in tarot, 0 represents the fool, or the universal energy that is in all things and throughout all things. Number 1 represents the Magician, us, awareness, consciousness. Together, they are the interconnectedness of all things.
Jan 27, 2015 11:05am
Thanks for the article. It sounded in parts like a primer for Buddhism 101 ha ha - in a good way of course.
Mar 8, 2015 10:02pm
This movie sounds like a counterpoint to all the media pressure we get every day to buy, buy, buy because we "deserve" it. It's also an interesting theory that cooperation is part of our DNA.
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