Tom Shadyac has a question, two actually.
What's wrong with the world?
What can we do about it?
He asks these questions because he was once part of the problem. As the director of Ace Ventura, Bruce Almighty, Liar Liar and The Nutty Professor his star rose quickly in Hollywood. He embraced the trappings that came with it and splurged money on mansions, cars, private jets and living the dream. Until he realised he was wrong. An avid mountain biker, his life was changed when an accident left him with post-concussion syndrome, where after he experienced months of severe headaches and hyper-sensitivity to light and noise. A period of suicidal despair and convalescence led him to re-evaluate his life and his role on this planet. He decided to put his talents to use and question the greatest minds of our time in his quest for answers. I Am tells the story.
What's wrong with the world?
There is something innately funny about watching him ask Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn and Desmond Tutu if they have ever seen Ace Ventura, but that's where the story begins. Naturally their response is, as one would expect, a curt 'no'. Shadyac questions poets, biologists, scientists, doctors and anthropologists as to why our world is so imbalanced and if greed really is ingrained in us. The results may well make it one of the most important pieces of non-fiction committed to film. We learn that as a species we think we are special and that the words wealth and happiness have become synonyms. How wrong we are. We have fashioned our world to be separate entities and have created a buffer in our lives through buying things that we don't need. The truth I believe is that the simpler things in life are what elicit the most joy. That is a fundamental truth. The lie we are taught is that by having lots of possessions and wealth we are automatically going to be happy. I know this is wrong from not only listening to great minds, I know this because I've experienced it. In fact most of us know it, we just ignore it. As consumers we have been driven to accumulate and not seek out the simple pleasures like going for a walk or taking the time to see the earth as one big living, breathing, interconnected body. Everything on this earth is intertwined, like the air in our lungs, the plants that grow and the cycles of life. Our biggest problem is that we are not as special as we think we are. Studies have shown that flights of swallows, shoals of fish and herds of deer function in a true democracy. There is no alpha male who decides what's best, it's a consensus in the true meaning of the word. Yes the animal and plant kingdom must take what it needs to survive but does not take more than its share, as we do. Our greed has taken away our communal tendencies and this is passed on to our kids. How can a race that is hard-wired for compassion and capable of extraordinarily kind deeds leave such poverty in its wake? Because it is spoon fed to us daily through advertising and we buy it up. What are we afraid of? Have you noticed the endorphins rush you get from helping someone or coming together as a collective to achieve something positive? It's uplifting and sets off emotions that we can't quantify. Shadyac illustrates this wonderfully as he speaks to his father who tirelessly helped cancer patients at free hospital he helped found. A free hospital in the U.S.!!!! His father told a tale of how people would gather at the local church on the weekends and for that one and a half hours citizens of every race would unite in joy and love. When they left the church though it was back to life as usual, would they embrace in a grocery store or on the street? Of course not, by not continuing this expression of unity I think we are letting ourselves down and selling ourselves short. There are many ways to float around the same subject but the root of the problem is clear. To quote the lyrics from the Jerry Hannan song, Society.
It's a mystery to me
We have a greed with which we have agreed
You think you have to want more than you need
Until you have it all you won't be free
So, what can we do about it?
No single great thing has ever happened because one person stood up and changed the world. Paradigm shifts in apartheid, segregation, equality, poverty and on and on as long as history has shown us have happened because of small acts. Yes it may take one person to sow the seed but everything after that is because of unity and belief in a common purpose. Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King are names that inspired peaceful and positive change in the world, but it was the people who did small acts and multiplied the movement that impacted the world. Would Obama be president if Rosa Parks hadn’t refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white lady that December day in 1955. He might not be! But it was not solely Rosa Parks either who changed the world, it was a ripple that became a wave. She may have been the drop but it took countless small acts to take us to where we are now. Wars teach us nothing other than to bully and dominate and where peaceful protesters are shot at with rubber bullets and beaten with batons. Most of these view points are my own and interpolate with the theme of the movie in general but it's the same in whatever language you chose or in whatever format you tell it. Having love in your heart is the only way to live, full stop. Every action we create has an impact on our surroundings, the way you hold a door open for someone, the small consideration even for a person you don't know or may not even particularly like and the things you say to those closest to you. All of those can never really be comprehended by ourselves but may have a huge bearing on someone else’s life. Start now, you can change, it's just a decision. Love or hate, fear or hope. You chose at any time you want to hold the hands of love, don't build a bigger wall around yourself, break the walls down and open your heart and mind to the possibility of sharing that connection with everyone