Tom Shadyac's "I Am" like Creamy New Age Yogurt

This is a review of a preview screening of Tom Shadyac's new documentary, "I Am." The film’s creators invited not just “Hollywood,” but also church types, so as to include feedback from the faithful on this very spiritual and introspective film. What does yogurt have to do with it? Read on and see.

Part "What the Bleep Do We Know" and part Michael Moore-styled factoid journalism, the doc does keep your interest.

It gives a fascinating inside look at an extraordinary Hollywood director, who was caught up in his success. It takes us into the world of his depression, brought on by injuries from a cycling accident. "Persistent Concussion Syndrome" can lead victims into depression and, as in Shadyac's case, a non-suicidal desire for death.

He had it all, mansions, private planes, cars and all the trappings. From his roles as director and producer to executive producer, Shadyac's success is legendary, including such films and TV hits as “Evan Almighty,” "8 Simple Rules," "Bruce Almighty," “Liar, Liar” and “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.” These films alone constitute nearly $1.4 Billion in foreign and domestic box office (Box Office Mojo).

But, a cycling accident derailed all of his materialism and he was reduced to a hollow shell of a man, depressed beyond belief. He tried about everything to shake the grip of the syndrome, and he isolated himself to a large degree from friends and family. He welcomed the prospect of death.

And then a funny thing happened. Shadyac found a powerful truth, which shouted at him; he wasn't any happier for all his vast material wealth. In this, the documentary has it's kernel of profound, experiential truth.

Shadyac’s “against the grain” conversion to a new philosophy in the midst of his profound emptiness genuine and included a dramatic recovery from his depression. He sold his Pasadena home after much soul-searching and moved into a Malibu trailer park. He now rides his bicycle to work (which respectfully sounds like a very bad idea!).

The film draws you in and you can't help but be intrigued by it's feelgood-ism and strong call to be better humans.

It goes through a litany of human rights and materialism/capitalism/competition offenses, which it naturally lobbies against. A shot of the USA is shown from satellite and the announcer asks what is the problem? The implication: America is the problem.

The not-so-subtle message is that we are victims of a capitalistic society. A system that gave Shadyac countless millions of dollars, private jet rides and a voice to preach about all of this.

But, it's more than another social justice piece. It is also a compelling re-hash of New Age religion. After the movie, Shadyac said in the Q & A that he thought he would be a preacher someday (or his friends did).

He reaches that goal with this film. Does that mean Shadyac will be labeled a "religious" documentary filmmaker? Probably not, but the label certainly didn't hurt him A.B. (after "Bruce Almighty"). Box office success talks louder than labels.

"I Am" bolsters it's brand of spirituality with a generous helping of questionable “science,” some amusing parlor tricks and humor.

The film attempts to take Utopian ideas from the 60's, ground them in evolutionary science (with a kinder, gentler Charles Darwin espousing love and compassion over competition) and avoid any discussion of man's need for God, for Jesus and/or for salvation.

The social justice part of "I Am" is simply works-based salvation that doesn't even get you to heaven! Ostensibly the payoff is a human utopia. Isn't that an oxymoron?

In which recent decade have we seen anything but largess and disappointment from our human ancestors or our government? The phrase "It will be different this time" is wearing pretty thin.

"I Am" on-camera guests include members of the Institute of Noetic Science, which according to their website focuses "on the intersection of science and spiritual experience, human potential, consciousness and healing, mind-body interaction, social transformation, and creativity" (standard, New Age fare).

In the film, the fact that God is NOT discussed is the elephant in the room, and though Jesus is quoted in the film saying to "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," the focus of the film is on we humans acting as our own savior as we change ourselves into loving beings.

No one will dispute the fact that helping the poor is great and noble and should be done as a part of the Christian faith. But the uniting factor for Christians and the catalyst for lasting change is Jesus the Christ alone, not new age, social justice or weird science.

For this film, the mention of God's help would be so natural that it's exclusion is as if Shakespeare left Othello out of the play that bears his name.

After the screening, a question was asked about Shadyac's involvement in Hollywood, "You must've met some really evil people there," said the questioner. “What about the fact that we are all sinful and what about the collective mentality that produced Hitler's Third Reich?”

To this, Shadyac said he thinks there are very few "evil" people. He believes that you can't separate God from people.

But, the Bible's central point is that we are all separated from God at birth by sin and our own choices and Jesus is the ONLY remedy for this fatal condition. Romans 3:22-23 says “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (NIV).

Shadyac hopes to market “I Am” to Christian audiences, but he overlooks the simple fact that it doesn’t line up with the Bible’s fundamental truth.

This is the mis-communication with Hollywood and the Church. Hollywood often thinks that because it mentions spirituality (of any type), that the church will support a film. For example, though the “DaVinci Code” is antithetical to Christianity, it was aggressively marketed to Christian churches. Then the studios wonder why Christian audiences are so fickle.

"I Am" unveils a coming kind of group mindset, which is "proved" to be powerful by the effect of strong emotional events like the fallout of 911 on random number generators set up around the world. The generators became not at all random during that time of upheaval.

The power of the mind is further demonstrated by the effect of Shadyac himself on camera talking and thinking about his agent or his lawyer (and getting strong emotional reactions) as we watch a petri dish full of plain old yogurt register high spikes on an electric meter. The sticky electrodes were not hooked up to Mr. Shadyac, just to the yogurt.

Shadyac also replied to the questions, what was left on the cutting-room floor? Among the many things he was unable to tell in "I Am," he said that we are all becoming one collective mind as evidenced by the way cells are mutating. Wow.

It sounds far-fetched, but then so does the thought of Christians buying into this movie. And there were some Christians in the room lining up to promote the film and of course to gain favor with Mr. Shadyac.

Romans 2:8-12 says that God is no respecter of persons. He does not show favoritism or compromise his values. Christians shouldn't either.

What does yogurt have to do with Tom Shadyac's new documentary? If consumed too fast, you might forget what flavor it was.

According to talk radio host Dennis Prager, "What humans need even more than a good heart (as beneficial as that can be) is wisdom. There has been a war on wisdom. Given how much evil has emanated from human idealism, the heart is an awful guide to doing good."

If this documentary fares well among Christians it will be because we have forsaken wisdom and allowed our minds and faith to become weak. The film does not have a Christian worldview. It's not even close!

Marketing this film to Christian audiences is at best ambitious denial of what the film really is. At worst, it is laughing hard at Christians and trying to get them to “swallow the elephant,” along with the creamy New Age Yogurt.

"I Am" is another in a long line of films that promote the idea that we can "fix it" without God's help. It’s time to acknowledge the elephant in the room and to have an open, honest discussion.

Here's an interview with Tom Shadyac and CNN Producer Sarah Holbrooke as they discuss "I Am." Warning, content is offensive in 1 spot at 3:45-4:00. http://vimeo.com/12772545


Christopher said...

Wow. :-(

Anonymous said...

Great commentary John. While I rarely i fever expect films to hold a Biblical world view I am always shocked and annoyed at the lack of discernment and Biblical literacy on the part of even some of the most lovely "Hollywood Christian Leaders". Thank you for expressing your thoughts with such clarity.

winston titus tao said...

Awesome words John. Very well said. We couldn't agree with you more. With each passing day, it seems the essence of "Christianity" is being lost. Literally, that word used to be associated with a "Christ-follower." Now, it's become hardly that. Even in my film school, I truly haven't met a single "Christ-follower" there. I have met a "christian" though, who just so happens to work in the playboy mansion and wants to shoot his next project about a raunchy sex addict and asked me to help on it. This day and age, especially in hollywood, the true brokenness and repentance needed to experience Jesus Christ as a personal saviour is gradually being lost. But the saddest thing is, the people who now call themselves Christians, are missing out on everything Christ has to offer-A relationship that is focused on a Grace so great it literally brings you to your knees. Galatians 6:9

Anonymous said...

It is my hope that while Tom is obviously searching for some kind of meaning, that he is not unfairly pilloried while on that search by the very folks that are supposed to love their neighbor. "Christians" have a nasty habit of expecting EVERYONE to be holy no matter what their spiritual condition happens to be. In this case, I hope that Tom's search will bring him to a realization that Christ is truly the only one that can heal his mind, will and emotions. No amount of "self-realization" or "Oprah-ness" can do it. Pray fervently for Tom Shadyac to KNOW the truth.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm missing something. I walked away from this film feeling a stronger connection to God - a desire to praise Him because for me it confirmed the possibility that we can find pieces of evidence that not only is science sometimes completely incorrect but there are things that point every piece of life having a common connection. For me, i naturally assume that common connection to be God. How refreshing to entertain the idea that the heart has greater power even more so than our brains. How many times do you read in the bible - let Jesus into your heart. Definitely, the overarching idea or take away from the movie basically is the same message that Jesus preached... to be wealthy is not to have many material things but meaningful relationships and love and to help others want that same wealth and experience it. Jesus loves us so much and wants us to enjoy this life and His many blessings and told us how we can get to that point of enjoyment, however eventhough we hear Him we have trouble believing Him and therefore turn and search out other avenues that we think will bring us happiness and in the end we are wrong. At the very least, the movie provides a great platform for some really good discussions that need to be had. Do we want to continue down the same path the human race is going down now - 100 years from now?

Anonymous said...

I have to say that I had the rare otpportunity to see this film, and it truly changed me. I saw it two days ago and have not forgotten one moment of it. I look at people in a more positive light and I work to be a better person. If there is anything to take from this film is that each individual can make a difference in the world. This is not a gu about telogipn, but rather a guide to humanity.

John David Ware said...

Dear Anonymous,

If you are a new age believer, then this film is great for you, but my review of the film is from the Chrisitan point of view.

I have assumed that you are a Christian, but I may be wrong. I mean no offense either way.

I know it is a feel good piece. If it makes you praise God great, but you are ignoring much that was said and implied. It is fine from the world's point of view, but as I have argued, the film does not have a Christian point of view. That is a fact. It argues against Christian principles.

The science that you say leads you toward God will lead others toward the Science of the Mind, Noetics and to other new age philosophies. The conclusion of the film is "I Am" the problem and "I Am" the solution. I will solve my own problems (to the exclusion of God).

Look around, see how well this philosophy is working.

When you say that "the the heart has greater power than our brains," you describe the reaction I have seen from Christians who embrace this film. They simply don't know their faith well.

As humans, we all hear what we want to hear and cherry pick messages for what we believe.

You say "the overarching idea or take away from the movie basically is the same message that Jesus preached... to be wealthy is not to have many material things but meaningful relationships and love and to help others want that same wealth and experience it."

Close. Jesus said not to put your faith in material things. If wealth was bad, then who would give to those in need. No, we need the wealthy too. And we all need Jesus. In fact, His greatest caution to us was to accept his Lordship lest we perish in hell. To ignore this and to ignore His message about our complete dependence on the Father is to promote something other than Christianity.

I also agree that as you say, "the movie provides ... for some really good discussions. Do we want to continue down the (this) path."

The rub is to agree about the "path" we are discussing. Where does the power come from? Underlying all sins of omission or commission is the primordial path of faith in Christ and in relying on God. In this soil seeds for Social Responsibility and empathy for those less fortunate can be sown and can grow to impact others eternally. Without the inclusion of the gospel, this works based "social justice" is weakened considerably.

To focus on the result (social responsibility) to the exclusion of the foundation for this is putting the cart before the horse.

Another Anonymous writer said "This is not a gu about telogipn, but rather a guide to humanity." If I understand the language right, they are saying it's not about religion, it's a guide to humanity.

You are exactly right. You dot the "i" on my argument. It avoids a discussion of Almighty God altogether in deference to Almighty Humanity!?

The path we are on as a country looks like a bumpy ride, belt up.


Anonymous said...
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The Curach said...

"But, the Bible's central point is that we are all separated from God at birth by sin and our own choices and Jesus is the ONLY remedy for this fatal condition."
Saying that the central point is our sin sounds awfully self-centered.
I would contend that the Bible's central point is Love, and Love keeps no record of wrongs (1 Cor. 13). Believes all...etc.
As a dad, it's hard for me to understand the idea of thinking of my childrens' fumbling, and mistakes, even intentional ones, as their defining feature. I love them. I want to the best for them, I employ the spiritual language of encouragement, because courage is what they need to motivate through a messed up world. So, Founder and President, I hope you enjoy the immense love of the Father and the freedom purchased through His Son!

John said...

RE: "the film does not have a Christian point of view. That is a fact. It argues against Christian principles."

Really? How does it do that? And exactly what Christian principles are you speaking of? AND, when did Shadyac ever say "THIS IS A CHRISTIAN FILM!"

Go ahead and cite some more Bible verses of how Shadyac is misguided in his message. Then I'll cite five that are in direct opposition to the one you cited. Then you'll cite five that are in direct opposition to the ones I cited. That's how the Bible works. You can find any "truth" you want to find in it. It never fails to amaze me how "Christians" always, ALWAYS, find fault with any idea of spirituality that doesn't fit neatly into their neat little box of salvation. The idea that there is only one possible "right" road to God.

Shadyac presents a beautiful message of how we can better understand ourselves and human nature, and in doing so, little by little, improve our world.

I don't know how on Earth you can interpret a message of mankind working together more cooperatively, more harmoniously, with more compassion for your fellow man and make the statement "it argues against Christian principles."

Wow. Just...wow.

John David Ware said...


Thanks for your comments. You seem like a reasonable guy and I don't think we have to agree to respect each other.

Regarding the Bible, you say "You can find any "truth" you want to find in it." But, then you do exactly that which you rail against by taking my words out of context and blurring the actual meaning.

I did affirm that there were good things in "I Am." But, having some beauty in a work of art doesn't mean it is all beautiful or all good.

Here's a food analogy. Would you serve ice cream with a fly in it to your friends? If yes, then your defense would be, "well, it was mostly ice cream and mostly good," which is pretty weak.

It's true that Mr. Shadyac never said it was a Christian film nor does it need to be. But, the fact is that he is trying to sell a New Age film to a Christian audience.

So, my blog evaluates it from their point of view.

You said: "Christians" always, ALWAYS, find fault with any idea of spirituality that doesn't fit neatly into their neat little box of salvation. The idea that there is only one possible 'right' road to God."

The Christian Bible teaches that without Jesus as your saviour, there is no salvation. No one is good enough on their own merit.

So I ask you, is a Christian who tells you that loving or not? How can you dismiss their concern for you as intolerance?

If you would like to get together, I would love to discuss this further.



Anonymous said...

Good review and good discussions. One thing that I am puzzled about is how Christians equate everything in the the Bible with the person Rabbi Jesus. I always see it as being about Christ, or rather about the God aspect of Jesus, and so I can accept that other religions can also be paths of true religion and relationship to God. Call him Sherman, what does it matter? So, prior to Jesus, no one came to God? Oh, well, what do I know? Yup, I know, here comes all the selective quotes from the Bible showing how exclusive God is ....

John David Ware said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thanks for your comment. No selective quotes to offer you. Jesus is the point of Christ-ianity. He's in the name. Christ is not a last name it's a title meaning Messiah/Savior. I think all religion can be about the search for truth, and all other religions are man's attempt to get to God. The difference between Christianity and the other religion is Jesus. The Bible talks about the salvation of Abraham, well before the time of jesus. It says "Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness." This means that he believed that God would provide a sacrifice and make things right. This belief connects to Jesus, the sacrifice for sins. So, that is how it was done in the old days. People didn't know the name back then, but it has always been Jesus that does the saving.

As for God being exclusive, I see that Jesus is the only way, but he is offered to everyone. As for those who have never heard of him, all I know is that God will find a way to make it fair. Those who are truly searching for truth will find it.

Anonymous said...

Nice commentary.

I've been looking for more information on Mr. Shadyac's story after reading about his epiphiany in the March/April 2011 AARP Magazine, pg 16.

His generous giving & far simpler lifestyle are commendable, but this film seems WAY off base - starting with the blasphemous title ...

I wish Mr Shadyac the best - & pray that his journey leads him to the truth - & that he is as bold in his sharing of that - as he is in this apparent misstep along his journey.

We are accountable for what we do, & more-so what we teach.

Vaya con Dios.


Anonymous said...

Would the Father not want Humanity to help itself, rather than acknowledge that we are totally useless and screw-ups and have to come begging to him to save us? I would want my children to help themselves and God made me in his image.

Why do believers in Christianity assume that anything non-Christian must be incorrect?

Do you honestly think that God would send a person to Hell if they did not believe in Jesus yet dedicated their time to helping others etc, generally doing good? Like mentioned above, what if they had never even heard of the Bible or Jesus but lived to the same principles?Ridiculous.

Christianity is sounding more and more like a group of people who blindly believe in their book and exclude all others who do not ascribe to it.

Anonymous said...

I heard Tom interviewed on TV and he got my attention. I liked the simplicity and "realness" he seemed to have found. But when I, a Christian, found out more about Tom's movie and his new thinking, I find it very sad. In looking for happiness, he got so close - but yet so far. Perhaps some day he'll meet the real "I AM" and find real happiness.

PJ said...

It is offensive to me that the name given to only Jehovah is now used to mean that I am the end all and the solution to the world's problems... Totally leaving out the true "I Am" of Scripture. When Moses asked Jehovah God, "who shall I say sent me?" God answered " say.."tell them "I AM sent you". Now here we go again-- taking a Name of Jehovah God and using it to mean that humanly speaking, we are the "I AM, we don't need God, because we can do it ourselves... The Divine lives in all of us, which is so contrary to Scripture... New Age attempts again to think we are God... As old as Satan in the garden with Eve getting her to believe that she could be like God, if only she would not obey God. When we take God out of our thinking, this is what happens-- we are deceived into thinking WE are God... Thus no need for redemption, salvation, a Redeemer- Christ. Wow, why did He go through all of that suffering to pay our sin debt if we were already Gods???

Casey said...

I found your website when I googled is Tom Shadyac a Christian? I have just seen his interview on Oprah. David, I totally get where your review is coming from as some of this film seemed "new-agey" from what I saw of it. I get your ice cream analogy & that certainly makes sense, but the heart of this film seems to be (haven't seen it all so I may be very wrong & I'm sure you will tell me I am) to get the American people to be satisfied with less. We are a very materialistic society & sadly this is not only happening in the non-believing world. It's running rampant in churches all over the country. So I do think as a Christian you could benefit from watching this. The truth of the matter is the American Christian Church could use a big wake up call. If this helps, then great. I certainly don't think it's going to weaken anyone's faith. Maybe I'm naive but I'm desperate for the Church to stop building million dollar churches when 36,000 people will die tomorrow & the next day & the next due to preventable diseases. We don't need to water down the Gospel in the process either. Ultimately it's a heart problem not a money problem. Let our money speak for what we truly believe. I welcome this movie.