As the month of November rolls in, the weather gets colder, the sun starts to disappear for the next six months, and a renewed sense of prostration seems to spread across campus. Though Thanksgiving break is in sight, the buildup of weeks without a break is taking its toll.
In short, it’s the perfect time to watch a feel-good movie, and I have just the right one for you: “I Am Sam”.
“I Am Sam” is about a man, Sam Dawson, and his struggles raising a daughter as a mentally-challenged man. At seven years old, his daughter Lucy (played by the wonderful Dakota Fanning) surpasses him in intelligence, which has other people raising questions about Sam’s ability to raise Lucy well. Along the way, Sam hires a hard-headed lawyer named Rita who may not be as put together as everyone thought. I won’t spoil the ending, but you will definitely experience all the feels (in a good way).
There are several reasons why I love this movie, and I’m sure you will too. Here are just a few:
Sam shows us what it really means to love.
I first fell in love with this movie because it illustrates the power of love. Though Sam may not be able to understand big words or abstract concepts, he completely understands what it means to love someone fully. He may even understand this concept of love better than many other people, including his hard-headed lawyer, and he’s not afraid to let it show. Though he can’t teach his daughter many academic things, he does teach her things that she can’t get from school, such as how to love others. Arguably, this is much more important than any school tutoring. Lucy has teachers and tutors to help her with academics, but they so often neglect teaching students about how to live a life with meaning. A life of meaning comes from forming significant relationships with other people who share in your happiness and walk with you in your struggles. Sam shows Lucy how to live life just like that despite what society sees as unintelligent.
Sam helps redefine what success can mean.
Throughout the movie, Rita’s life serves as a stark contrast to Sam’s. She is intelligent, capable and driven, yet her family relationships are failing. Book smart does not mean people smart. She continually struggles to articulate and convey her emotions and buries her struggles inside, which leads to emptiness in her relationship with her husband and son. She devotes all of her time and energy into her work and becomes successful as a lawyer. She owns a huge house and a nice car, but is that all success is? Society may say yes, but Sam shows us that success means so much more. Success isn’t just the money you make. Success is finding joy, peace and satisfaction in your life and that looks different to each person. For Rita, she thought being a great lawyer was enough. Yet, she was left with lots of darkness inside. She realized that she needed better relationships, meaningful relationships to help create light to drive out the darkness. For us students, perhaps this means that success in college is more than how great we can make our CVs and resumes. Perhaps, it’s just a little bit more.
Sam challenges our biases, stereotypes, and perspectives.
As Sam goes through his battle for Lucy, we constantly see people against him. They claim to be doing what is best for Lucy, but how do they know? These characters illustrate the innate biases stereotypes that exist in society about mentally challenged people. Since they can’t read books more challenging than Dr. Seuss and can’t count change, they can’t possibly take care of another human being. But hasn’t Sam taken care of himself as an adult? Doesn’t he have a job and an apartment to live in? Why do we assume that IQ determines how capable someone is to be a parent? The people that are against Sam hardly take the time to get to know him or observe his life and behavior. Instead, they look for small moments that confirm their ideas about him, such as lashing out at Lucy’s birthday party and assume that’s the whole story. But don’t we all have moments where we lash out? What if someone took one small moment of your life where you messed up and used that to decide whether you were accepted into a university? That’s not so fair and a lot of times we do the same thing to other people, especially people like Sam that are different from us. Maybe it’s time to challenge our assumptions and take more time to really know people, rather than judging them for that one moment.
All of these reasons relay powerful messages about life. After watching this movie, you will feel good, but you will also be challenged to live a better life. We are all challenged to be more like Sam.
The world would be a better place with a few more Sam Dawsons in it.