“I Am Sam” (stylized “i am sam”) is a 2001 American drama film written and directed by Jessie Nelson, and starring Sean Penn as a father with a developmental disability, Dakota Fanning as his inquisitive seven-year-old daughter, and Michelle Pfeiffer as his lawyer, Dianne, Loretta Devine, Richard Schiff and Laura Dern appear in supporting roles.
For his role as Sam, Penn was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor at the 74th Academy Awards in 2002.
The movie’s title is named for the line “Sam-I-Am” featured in the book Green Eggs and Ham, which is read in the movie.
The man who calls himself Sam Dawson (Sean Penn) is a tall, handsome man – but for all his good looks and chiseled features, he is a man who suffers from diminished mental capacities and capabilities. He has the I.Q. of a seven-year old child. His inarticulate speech, limited vocabulary, his style of running (with flapping arms) and talking tend to be a ‘dead give-away’ that he is a man who is overtaken by developmental disabilities – imposed on him by Fate. Most people tend to be highly callous and insensitive when they use derogatory and prejudicial terminology to refer to such persons – they refer to them variously as being ‘retards’ and as being ‘mentally handicapped.’ Nowadays, such people with “special needs” are referred to as being ‘mentally challenged.’
Despite the many odds against leading a normal and fulfilling life as that of most of his contemporaries, Sam was surprisingly a contented and well-adjusted adult male – he was helped along the way by a group of supportive and sincere friends with similar developmental disabilities. His life was segregated and compartmentalized into a fixed daily routine – he was obsessive about
maintaining the equitable balance of this routine in whatever he did. He had a fixed menu for breakfast and for all his other meals; Wednesday night was video night with his friends and had to be maintained as such – no matter what. The continuity of this daily routine was compulsively maintained by Sam and his friends – it was Sam’s way of not throwing his life out of sync. Sam “hurted” a lot when people tended not to accept him for what he was – especially when people tended to treat him like a ‘retard.’
Sam works as a friendly and diligent busboy at Starbucks Coffee; even though his daily wage is frugal, he is always smiling, cheerful and seemingly lacking in nothing. Sam has been drilled into believing that “the customer is always right.” He has been taught by the management to be friendly but not familiar with all their clientele. He addresses each customer by name and knows what coffee they like best. He is often heard cheerily addressing a client – “Hi. I am Sam. You want a cappuccino with latte today – that’s a wonderful choice!” During the course of his job at Starbucks, Sam takes into his home a homeless woman. We are not sure how they meet or how they get together in the same apartment. The downside of Sam giving this woman shelter is that he also inadvertently makes her pregnant. The woman delivers her baby and disappears from Sam’s life and Sam is left saddled with a beautiful baby girl in his arms. She reminds him of the famous Beatles song, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” He names his little angel Lucy Diamond Dawson and starts bringing her up as a single father and in the best way that he knows how. He is soon overwhelmed by such a great responsibility – luckily, he is helped along the way by a kind, piano-playing, agoraphobic neighbor Annie (Dianne West) who takes care of Lucy when Sam cannot. Annie becomes Lucy’s regular babysitter as time goes by.
Lucy grows up to be highly intelligent, perspicacious, vivacious and inquisitive 7 year-old girl. Even though her father tries his level best to provide her a loving and caring home environment, it soon becomes obvious that Lucy’s intelligence far bypasses that of her father’s. She feels highly embarrassed when her friends start referring to Sam as a ‘retard.’
At the school Halloween party, Sam dresses as Paul McCartney but embarrasses his daughter by drawing undue attention to himself. Other kids tease her, calling her dad a “retard”. She tells one boy that she is adopted – just as a childish means of evading a painful issue that she did not want to discuss further. This causes a crisis at her birthday party, which results in an unexpected visit from a social worker who takes Lucy away. A judge allows him only two supervised, 2-hour visits per week.
Sam is encouraged by his friends to hire a high-powered attorney, Rita Harrison (Michelle Pfeiffer) who has earned the rather dubious reputation, among her own colleagues in the legal field, for being cold, heartless and extremely materialistic – her brusque, abrupt and cool demeanor are all part and parcel of her stressful, fast-paced daily schedule in the legal field. Rita feels snubbed by the jibes of her colleagues in this regard and as a sign of possessing a modicum of decency and goodness, she agrees to take on Sam’s case “pro bono” (free of charge.) Sam is overjoyed at this show of generosity and as a sign of his own spontaneity, he hugs Rita warmly.
Rather than Rita helping Sam gain custody of his daughter, it is Sam who inadvertently helps Rita with her problems. She sees how he manages to stay happy in his small world where extreme neatness, symmetry and methodology are all traits of paramount importance that help him to function reasonably effectively in a world that has gone crazy. His is a life of kindness, honesty, compassion, simplicity and innocence. She finds herself getting attracted to him for his basic kindness and goodness – if for nothing else. She marvels at the way he manages to find Joy, Laughter and Beauty in the smallest and most mundane of things. Life’s cynicism has not touched the wonder in his eyes – just like the twinkle in the eyes of a child. It is Sam who finally convinces Rita to leave her husband who is a womanizer and a philanderer. Rita’s young son hates her because she is never there for him and is always too preoccupied and busy for his childish needs. Sam helps Rita realize that she can relate to her child by playing with him and singing to him. In this way, Rita’s relationship with her son gradually improves, over time.
The final scene of the movie depicts a soccer game, refereed by Sam, in which Lucy participates as a player. In attendance are the foster family, Sam's friendship group, and a newly-single Rita with her son. The story ends on a happy note, despite many odds to the contrary.
The Lord God has created us all, it’s true – yet we really do not know why some children are born with challenging disabilities while the majority of their counterparts are not. Some people say that Mother Nature is in the habit of playing cruel and nasty games – it is a likely mutation in their genes that causes such a disparity. Others claim that such children are born deformed or with various disabilities, either to fulfill their own Karma from a past life or to fulfill the Karma of those who are forced to look after and take responsibility for them.
Whatever the reasoning might be for the existence of people with “special needs” in our lives, the fact is that these people have the innocence and naïveté of children – they are able to root out goodness and compassion in others where many see no such possibility at all. In fact, their joy-of-life, their basic honesty, their sincerity, their unconditional and unstinting love, their loyalty, their friendliness, their trust and compassion, despite several odds to the contrary, are all the qualities that “normal” human beings need to imbibe to become better people themselves. Mentally and physically challenged people are the ones who teach us how it is vital that we be grateful for all that we have and how it is so important to be appreciative for all the things and abilities that Life has blessed us with.
LEARN TO APPRECIATE WHAT YOU HAVE LONG BEFORE IT BECOMES SOMETHING THAT YOU HAD.
LEARN TO APPRECIATE PEOPLE FOR WHAT AND WHO THEY ARE – even though they may be very “different” from the person that you are.
BE KIND, CARING AND COMPASSIONATE at all times.
THAT – my dear readers – IS THE ROAD TO SALVATION and honestly, you didn’t need me to tell you that. You know it too!
Hold my hand and I’ll lead you to this Heavenly Road.
IMPORTANT MESSAGE FROM THE AUTHOR: I will be going abroad shortly for a holiday. Look out for a brand-new blog in September 2013. Happy Reading, stay well & see you all soon!
- Disability Advocates and Professionals to Descend on Bellevue for The Arc’s Annual Convention (prweb.com)
- “Retard” & “Retarded” – Teach Kids Now (jackiesaulmonramirez.com)
- Oh, I know nothing about that… (msshadenegamble.wordpress.com)
- Developmental disability: Where we lack facts, myths abound | ChronicleOnline.com (pattidudek.typepad.com)
- Autistic man who allegedly attacked young child not arrested (komonews.com)