The Missing Cogito: I Am (2010)

Posted by Charles Reece, March 20, 2011 10:46pm | Post a Comment
i am poster

Admittedly, I went into this hoping for a completely laughable mess. I Am is ostensibly a documentary about Tom Shadyac -- the director of such shit as Ace Ventura, Bruce Almighty and The Nutty Professor remake -- and his road to enlightenment following a near death epiphany. The self-described near death experience was a bike crash where he broke an arm, banged up a knee and received a concussion. The concussion was similar to what football players sometimes receive, which results in an ongoing bout of depression. Since some such sufferers have killed themselves, Shadyac reckons that he faced death. After a few months, his depression lifted, so the world wasn't tragically deprived of another of its artists. His epiphany was that it's unnecessary -- an obscene display -- for one man to own seven mansions and profligate to fly around on private jets. He came to see that wanting more and more stuff that he couldn't practically use as a social cancer. So Shadyac got rid of his personal jet and the mansions, started filming this doc (evidently before he even had his epiphany) and is now roughing it at a trailer park beach community in Malibu. He's learned to live without jets and mansions and multiple cars, so why can't the rest of us? The film is to help us cope with the deprivation.

The title is a clue to the narcissism: Shadyac's mere existence is enough to celebrate and take inspiration from, not his thought. Rene Descartes' res cognitans is elided over by the gobbledygook Shadyac learns from the new age experts at the Institutes of Heartmath and Noetic Sciences. They preach the same kind of nonsense that made The Secret and What the Bleep Do We Know? so popular. The former institute explains that the ontological center is in the beating heart, sending out electromagnetic waves that connect us with everything. For example, Shadyac is shown having his feelings electrically registered in some yogurt. Similarly, the latter institute suggests oneness with everything is our true essence, not individualism. Greed (the director doesn't take a stand on capitalism) is thus working against our essence. To support this, he interviews a bunch of nonscientists speaking on the scientific evidence of cooperation in nature, such as flocks and herds turning in the same direction at the same time. (Despite receiving prominent billing, Chomsky is in the film for about 2 minutes -- if that -- with Zinn given slightly more time. Their notable critiques of capitalism would've been too negative, I suspect.) The film never bothers to connect the dots here: if cooperation or "oneness" is our default position why then such a vast differential between the haves and the have-nots? Well, most obviously, social hierarchy is a form of cooperation that sustains the biological existence of the human species. A monarchy works as long as enough people support it -- this is an example of cooperation. Saying we need to cooperate doesn't mean jackshit, it's how we cooperate that's either moral or not. In place of critical thought, the film amounts to a rich guy using his star power to tell the hoi polloi that we're better off not striving after what he has, that he's to be applauded for realizing this, like an extended version of US Weekly's "Stars, They're Just Like Us." His solution? "Love."

Far more entertaining and worth the price of admission was the Guyanna-styled Q&A with Shadyac after the movie. Following his standing ovation from the zombies, he informed us that by coming to tonight's show, we were freeing slaves in another part of the world! Then the comments and questions began (if only I had a recording): One woman compared the director to Siddhartha (living in Malibu surely can't be that different from self-mortification and a total deprivation of worldly pleasures). Shadyac wasn't the least bit embarrassed, and agreed. A guy asked if the director had any change of heart regarding Ace Ventura (presumedly a cheap commodity that adds nothing to our collective existence). No, said Shadyac, if anything, he's more sure than ever that his film is part of the solution to the world's problems. People need to laugh. Another person asked how we could help get the film and its message of love translated into as many languages as possible. I'm forgetting stuff, but the final question came from a blind black man (who turned out to be an old acquaintance of Shadyac). He said the movie really helped him to see what's important. When you're helping the blind with sight, what more could you do? Shadyac's in talks with Oprah about having a show on her network. Of course he is.

Relevant Tags

Tom Shadyac (1), I Am (1)