Certainly one of the most upbeat documentaries I’ve ever seen, I Am (2010) refuses to dwell on the horrible events happening around the world. Instead the film looks at what people can do to make life worth living. Some of the world’s most revered environmentalists, historians, religious leaders and philosophers present their ideas on how we can make the Earth a better place. Here’s a hint, the answer isn’t in our so-called ‘natural’ competitive instincts.
Documentaries are an alien realm for director Tom Shadyac, whose most notable contributions to Hollywood so far have been Jim Carrey vehicles such as, Ace Ventura Pet Detective (1994), Liar Liar (1997) and Bruce Almighty (2004). Shadyac’s life took an abrupt turn however, when he developed Post Concussion Syndrome after a cycling accident. This led to a deep depression, in which Shadyac no longer cared to live. When his symptoms eventually lifted, he reexamined his priorities, and decided to live a better life. This search for meaning inspired him to make a documentary which answered two key questions:
1) What is wrong with the world?
2) How can we make it better?
I Am posits that modern society has a major problem. Shadyac goes on to explain that in certain ancient tribes, the accumulation of resources past what one needs to survive was viewed as a mental illness. By this definition, the modern world, with its enormous gaps between the rich and the poor, has the markings of a mentally-ill society.
Interviewed in the film are a wide variety of people, including David Suzuki, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Elis abet Sahtouris and Desmond Tutu. Each person discusses their area of expertise, their views of the world, and opinions on how we can do better. One of the most interesting points in the film is the examination of the assumption that humans are naturally competitive. This belief feeds into our political systems, our consumption habits and the way we view war as a natural process. However, the assumption that people are naturally warlike and go out of their way to trample those around them ignores our innate abilities to empathize with others. The spirit of community and camaraderie runs deep in humans. It’s why we see so many people helping during a tragedy, rather than running for the hills.
The film occasionally jumps into the deep pool of new age theories regarding the interconnectivity of life and energy fields. Experiments such as the Global Consciousness Project (GCP) are mentioned. Members of the GCP are using random number generators placed around the world, and searching the data for proof that a global consciousness exists, and can affect the world around it. These are interesting theories, though there seems to be very little hard science to back any of them up.
The documentary is a breath of fresh air in a landscape so focused on negativity. If there is one takeaway from this film, it’s that the power of empathy can save us. It’s what the Beatles have been telling us all along: all you need is love.