You've probably seen at least one movie directed by Tom Shadyac—perhaps the Robin Williams melodrama Patch Adams, or the Eddie Murphy remake of The Nutty Professor, or one of Jim Carrey's blockbusters like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Liar Liar, or Bruce Almighty. And then came the 2007 box-office bust of Evan Almighty. Shadyac has yet to make another major motion picture since.

So what happened to one of Hollywood's top comedic directors? Shortly after Evan Almighty, Shadyac was involved in a near-fatal bike accident that left him with a broken hand, a nasty concussion, severe depression—and a new perspective on life. He eventually sold his mansion, abandoned his ritzy lifestyle, and moved into a mobile home community in Malibu; he now rides his bike everywhere, including to a teaching gig at nearby Pepperdine University. Some are calling him crazy, but Shadyac would tell you he sees things more clearly now and is simply living out his faith.

Tom Shadyac interviews Desmond Tutu

Tom Shadyac interviews Desmond Tutu

After recovering from his bike accident—and the depression and mood swings typical of post-concussion syndrome—a renewed Shadyac rounded up a small camera crew and went around the world in search of the answers to two questions: What's wrong with our world? And what can we do about it? The result is I Am, a fascinating documentary that takes the viewer on the journey right along with Shadyac.

The director interweaves his own story with interviews of several famed scientists, authors, and thinkers, including Lynne McTaggart, Thom Hartmann, Noam Chomsky, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, David Suzuki, the late Howard Zinn, and Shadyac's father Richard, who helped found and develop St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

Shadyac with Rollin McCraty

Shadyac with Rollin McCraty

I Am is less about Shadyac's radical lifestyle change than it is an exploration of humanity's shortcomings and wasted potential for good. The first portion deals with Western culture's tendency toward greed and overconsumption, questioning our misplaced need for stuff in the pursuit of happiness. How much is too much? Does wealth buy happiness? This is familiar territory, but it's hard to argue with the film's premise in light of world poverty and our culture's continual obsession with upgrading to the latest smartphone.

The middle chapter of I Am is the strangest, yet also the most intriguing and entertaining, delving into theories of quantum physics to explain how we're all connected—not just socially but even physically and emotionally on a biological level; one scientist tells Shadyac that humans are "all part of an energy field." The film's funniest scene has Shadyac wired up at the Heartmath Institute to see how his emotional state affects the bacteria in a Petri dish of yogurt; the results are interesting, but is it real or surreal?

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With David Suzuki

With David Suzuki

Shadyac and his subjects also explore how humans are genetically wired for love and compassion. There's the usual talk of how our biological makeup isn't that far removed from primates and other animals, but I Am also raises questions about Darwin's evolutionary theories, or at least the alteration of his theories over the last century. For example, Darwin once noted that our ability to cooperate—our capacity for sympathy, compassion, and democracy—is mankind's greatest strength. We may be free to do as we please, but it's in our best interest to work together and help others, both for the greater social good and for our own health.

All of this is used to make the case for us to "be the change" the world needs through charity and acts of kindness. Again, hard to argue with that, but Shadyac fails to fully explain why mankind is prone to selfishness and greed rather than altruism and compassion—that is, aside from the explanation of the title (we won't give it away here), which is as close as the film comes to acknowledging original sin and man's sinful nature. If it's so good for us, then why don't we do more good?

The connection is never made, and this is probably where I Am disappoints the most, at least for Christian viewers and given Shadyac's Catholic background and previous assertions that he's also a believer. The film is primed to launch into a discussion of the basic laws of human nature and morality as discussed at the beginning of Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, but it never gets there.

Instead, Shadyac takes a more interfaith (if not New Age) approach, with icons from all religions shown in the opening credits. Yes, the film references the teachings of Christ (specifically Matthew 5:44) and St. Francis, plus Archbishop Tutu offers a few points. But it also references eastern religions and gives at least as much screen time to poet Coleman Barks, an expert on Islamic poet and philosopher Rumi. (Barks cites a line from Rumi that is also referenced in the David Crowder worship song "Here Is Our King.")

But in the end, I Am doesn't skew toward any specific religion. Shadyac's goal was to find common ground among the broader audience in search of "a problem causing all the other problems" of the world. He at least succeeds in starting the conversation with smart editing, clever use of archived film footage, and an overall good-natured sense of humor.

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I Am may not point to Christianity, but it can serve as a springboard for discussion in that direction. Besides, if this movie at least gets viewers thinking about "the power of one" and what we can do to make the world a better place, then it's surely a success.

Talk About It

Discussion starters
  1. Do you agree with this film's assertion that we have too much stuff? Does wealth ever buy happiness? Is capitalism wrong? How do we know when we've crossed over into greed—how much is too much? Explain how this is relevant to Matthew 6:21.
  2. What do you make of the science referenced in the middle of the film? Do you believe the points to be valid or are they skewed toward New Age beliefs? Are we connected to each other as human beings? Are we connected to nature? Explain how the film overlaps and/or contradicts our understanding of our world in Scripture (specifically Genesis 1-3).
  3. What about the information about humanity being wired for love and compassion on a genetic level? Does that coincide with Christianity's understanding of human nature? How do these studies work with Jesus' teachings in Matthew 5:38-48? What are some practical ways that you can better love your neighbors and enemies in your life?
  4. Do you think Shadyac is crazy or is he on to something here? Do you believe this movie draws the wrong conclusion and leads people down the wrong path? Or is it a springboard for deeper truths and making the world a better place?

The Family Corner

For parents to consider

Though I Am is not rated, the film would likely earn a PG-13 for several small scenes. Shadyac refers to making Jim Carrey "talk out of his ass" in one of his movies, and there's film footage of a driver "flipping the bird" to the cameraman. Shadyac is subjected to a psychological test and we briefly see that some of the photos he's exposed to show graphic gory images. There's some brief but disturbing black & white footage of a medical experiment involving a woman's eye being sliced open. There's film footage involving poverty and suffering in the world. Overall this is an educational film that teens can certainly benefit from, but it nevertheless includes some brief scenes of PG-13 content.

I Am
Our Rating
3 Stars - Good
Average Rating
(7 user ratings)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
Directed By
Tom Shadyac
Run Time
1 hour 17 minutes
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