If you wanted to film a documentary on the meaning of life, whom would you ask to direct it? Would it be the director of “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” the director of “The Nutty Professor” or the director of “Frankenstein: The College Years”?
Well, the same guy directed all three of those wacky movies, plus “Evan Almighty” and “Bruce Almighty,” both of which starred Morgan Freeman as God.
His name is Tom Shadyac. His mission was to find the answers to two seemingly unanswerable questions: What’s wrong with the world and what can we do about it? He got together a four-person film crew and traveled around the world, seeking wisdom from theologians, scientists, philosophers and authors.
His quest didn’t just reveal itself in a burning bush outside his Los Angeles home of 17,000 square feet. The calling came after he suffered post-concussion syndrome that resulted from a serious bicycle accident in Virginia in 2007. He experienced months of acute headaches and hyper-sensitivity to light and noise. He became severely depressed. He thought he was going to die.
But then he got better. And that’s when he started his ambitious project.
The documentary is titled I Am. Sounds spiritual, doesn’t it? And it is, in a way, but not the way believers think of I Am, referring to God himself. It’s worth watching, not that you’ll agree with everything that’s said. It’s worth watching because it’ll make you think about the world and why we human beings often don’t quite get it.
Several in my exercise group had seen the film, so after grunting and sweating for an hour one morning last week, we gathered around a coffee cake — low-calorie, of course — and talked about the documentary, its better moments and its flaws.
Why, someone asked, can’t we live in harmony with each other? Deer can. Answer: We have free will. Animals have instincts. Yet, most human beings want to do good things for others. Look what happened after the World Trade Center was attacked. We weren’t Democrats and Republicans. We were people — American people — willing to pull together.
Unfortunately, it never lasts. Months later, we were Democrats and Republicans again.
But just being kind is not the whole answer. Can you even imagine that bin Laden would have gone away if we’d just been nice to him? The film never addresses sin and evil in the world, a woman in our group said. Evil exists.
Shadyac is right, though. We shouldn’t sit back in our warm homes and do nothing. Shadyac did something. He gave away much of his fortune. He sold his mansion and moved to a (fancy) mobile home park. He opened a homeless shelter. He started riding a bicycle to work.
Still, ego appears to drive the train. Shadyac is helping people, but he’s no male Mother Teresa. He’s just a man who realized that the most satisfied people are those who serve, not those with the most stuff.
And for that, he deserves a round of applause.