Running time: 80 minutes
Director: Tom Shadyac
Price: $3.99 to rent, $12.99 to buy, free to stream on Netflix
Fun Fact: Director Tom Shadyac was the youngest writer ever to work with legendary comedian Bob Hope.
In this documentary, director Tom Shadyac seeks to answer two questions:
What’s wrong with our world?
What can we do about it?
You may be familiar with Shadyac – a hugely successful Hollywood director and producer, he’s the man behind classics like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Patch Adams and The Nutty Professor. After a nasty cycling accident, Shadyac found himself in a state of deep depression while suffering through post-concussion syndrome, a condition in which concussion symptoms can last for months, even years.
He describes himself during this period of his life as not suicidal, but still feeling ready for death. This time of reflection led him down the path of wanting to share what he had learned in his life, what changes in mindset he had in relation to success, happiness and the world we inhabit. He looks back at how he used his own success – multiple large estates, private jets, etc. – and how unfulfilling it all turned out to be.
To accomplish his mission of answering the two very simple questions, he interviews historians, activists, scientists, philosophers and journalists – including Noam Chomsky and Desmond Tutu – to find out what underlying principles are missing that are causing the ills of our planet (hunger, poverty, war, etc.).
The premise of this movie sounds like countless other documentaries, and you’d expect it to be an affair involving a whirlwind of negativity, pointing out all the ills of our society and who’s behind it all. The result of his efforts, however, is very different from what you might expect, and turns out to be quite beautiful.
Shadyac explores ideas that are common to New Age teachings and beliefs, but he does it in both a scientific and genuine way. He balances esoteric concepts with his own principles and scientific fact. He sheds light on the fact that human nature does not exclusively involve separation, scarcity and competition. In fact, he argues (and backs up with facts) that throughout nature you’ll find cooperation, compassion and unity to be just as, if not more, prevalent. Charles Darwin himself discusses these concepts in his work, The Descent of Man, but the interpretation of his works is skewed toward the concept of competition.
One of the most interesting parts of the film is the discussion of the intuitive and predictive power of the heart through regulating emotion, cognition and producing electromagnetic fields. The electromagnetic field that it produces can be measured and detected by other human brains. Positive emotions have a biological byproduct of helping you function better, including a clear mental state and drive to perform. Many negative emotions, including anger, physically inhibit cognitive function. We’re biologically hardwired to succeed when we practice and experience positive emotions such as compassion and cooperation.
I found myself moved by these concepts of practicing love, seeing the planet as a union of life and using the human heart as a tool for change. It’s easy to hear these concepts and disregard them because of how often and the manner in which they’re discussed. Shadyac, however, somehow delivers them in a way that unifies the rational mind and the compassionate body.
The film ends expressing the importance of individual actions in building momentum toward a tipping point of consciousness. It highlights figures in the past who have brought spiritual principles to the political sphere to successfully create change. The reminder is clear: Global change starts on the individual level.