"We started by asking what's wrong with the world and we ended up discovering what's right with it." - Tom Shadyak, director of I Am.

I AM is a documentary about Tom Shadyak's quest for the answers to his questions about life.  The film, which is totally narrated by Shadyak, starts out showing a generic mental hospital to introduce the subject of mental illness.  It immediately changes to the story of Shadyak's mountain bike accident where he suffered a broken wrist and concussion.  The concussion created complications where Shadyak suffered debilitating migraines for 6 months or more.  During that time, he got the idea for the film when he contemplated dying and started to experience a profound connectedness to all life. 

When Shadyak felt physically better, he went on a journey to interview a number of great thinkers such as Howard Zinn, Desmond Tutu, Lynne McTaggart as well as many others, including scientists and doctors.  He asked them questions such as, "What's wrong with our world and what can we do about it?" and, Is competition or cooperation innate to humans? 

The mental illness suggested in the beginning referred to greed and competition as mental illnesses.  Greed is considered a mental illness because one craves more and more even when one has enough.  Competition is seen as a mental illness because cooperation, which is considered an innately human quality, is eclipsed by trying to be better than others. 

There were some interesting studies sited (I will have to see the film again to find the exact studies.) about cooperation being innate in animals. Herd behavior is said to be actually based on democracy, not on a monarchy or decisions made by the alpha animal of the group.  I was also pleasantly surprised that the political figures, Howard Zinn, Desmond Tutu and others, supported the idea that man is innately cooperative.  Howard Zinn, a political scientist, remarked that war is not innate for humans.

There were many other ideas explored in this film; among them were: 
- Consumerism sets us up for separation from the natural world and supports competition.  It also keeps us distracted from changing our world for the better. 
- The heart is the real boss of us not the brain, as was examined by a research scientist who studies the intelligence of the heart. 
- Lynne McTaggart discussed how our Higher Self is part of the Universal Energy Field which we are all part of. 
- And by using our unique talents we can change the world. 

I found the film to be very intellectual and I can see how many other critics have complained about the lack of scientific evidence for the claims Shadyak was making.  The film was somewhat choppy. The director, famous for his wild comedies starring Jim Carey, seemed to structure this film with that same comedic, fast-paced style.  The film showed things that upset us which were effectively disturbing, to show us our reactions and to show what's wrong with the world.  I would liked to have seen more positive examples of human cooperation and connectedness, rather than examples of where it's lacking in our society, such as in war, greed, and frustration.  Although, when I saw someone in need in the film and felt that impulse to help, I could see my innate feeling of connectedness Shadyak was trying to convey.

Roko Belic, the director of photography of I Am also made a complimentary film called,  Happy: The Movie, which Shadyak asked him to make right before he decided to make I Am.  The Happy Movie was a study on happiness and how people get happy.  I saw the Happy film before seeing I Am. I couldn't help myself, but I was constantly comparing I Am to Happy.  To me Happy is a much more positive, visceral film.  I Am is more intellectual and an almost political film.  I Am says stop focusing on buying things and use your innate talents to change the world.  Happy says to be yourself, do what makes you deeply happy, just be and the world will automatically change.  I Am also says that when you change yourself, you change the way you see the world.  And there are other ideas that overlap with Happy, which Happy more fully explores.

I have to say that I liked Happy better (see my review here), but I Am is still a very entertaining, thought-provoking film with high production values.  I Am is a film for people who are concerned with doing something to effect the world directly.  I Am is currently playing theatrically in limited release and will soon come to DVD.  At the time of this writing, I Am is playing at the Loft Cinema in Tucson, AZ.  For information about screenings of I Am in your area, go here.  For the I Am trailer go here.