ChildCare Action Project (CAP): Christian Analysis of American Culture


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Entertainment Media Analysis Report
A service to our youth through you,
their parents and grandparents, in His name by His Word

I Am Sam (2001), PG-13
Analysis Date: January 19, 2002
CAP Score: 74
CAP Influence Density: 0.46

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NOTE: If you do not want the plot, ending, or "secrets" of a movie spoiled for you, skip the Summary/Commentary. In any case, be sure to visit the Findings/Scoring section -- it is completely objective to His Word and is the heart of the CAP Entertainment Media Analysis Model applied to this movie.


If Scriptural references appear, the full text appears at the end of the Summary / Commentary likely using a mix of KJV and NIV.

I Am Sam (PG-13) -- If it were not for the language....

Distributed by: New Line Cinema
Director(s): Jessie Nelson
Producer(s): Lisa Campbell, Michael De Luca, Barbara A. Hall, Marshall Herskovitz, Jessie Nelson, Claire Rudnick Polstein, David Rubin, Richard Solomon, Edward Zwick
Written by/Screenplay: Kristine Johnson, Jessie Nelson
Cinematography/Camera: Elliot Davis
Music: John Powell
Editing: Richard Chew

This one is for Dave and Peggy, a pleasant couple I met and had a chat with before the show started. Dave accurately predicted before the first scene why a movie about a father's struggle to keep his daughter was rated PG-13. Dave predicted it was probably because the writers threw in one [most foul of the foul words] which he abbreviated. And he was right. There was a single use of the most foul of the foul words [Col. 3:8]. Little did we suspect there would also be SIX uses of God's name in vain WITH the four letter expletive and five uses without [Deut. 5:11] plus five uses of the three/four letter word vocabulary [Matt. 12:36]. And that makes me mad. If it were not for the language, I Am Sam would have earned a CAP final score of 87, squarely at the bottom of the scoring range (100 to 87 out of 100) earned by G-rated movies in the comparative baseline database. Clearly I Am Sam was numerically equivalent to G-rated programming in Sex/Homosexuality, Drugs/Alcohol, and Murder/Suicide, PG in Wanton Violence/Crime, but R-rated programming in Impudence/Hate (which includes foul language) and in Offense to God (which includes the use of His name in vain).

Let me be subjective for a moment and tell you that other than the language cyanide, I Am Sam is one of the finest pieces of entertainment I have ever seen. Sean Penn, the typical beach bum bad guy, does an outstanding and moving job of portraying someone so out of character with his typical style. I may be somewhat overly biased about this movie since I am a foster/adoptive parent (24 foster kids, seven adoptions), but Penn's performance was pure and sincere. His "theatric crescendos" during emotionally charged episodes of his performance of mentally challenged Sam Dawson tended to make one believe he was actually mentally challenged. Penn is anything but mentally challenged. To be able to convey such a condition with such attention to detail down to facial muscle, head and appendage movement and style of running cannot be done without sharp, finely tuned talents and impeccable dedication. There wasn't a dry eye in the house. Not even mine.

Sam sired a baby girl with a homeless woman who was looking for a place to spend the night. In a moment of exceptional tenderness as he held the baby in the delivery room, Sam named his baby girl Lucy Diamond Dawson (Dakota Fanning at seven years old) after "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" of the Beatles. "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" (LSD) is a drug culture song -- "tangerine trees", "marmalade skies", "plasticine porters with looking glass ties" -- but there was no hint of illegal drug presence or overtones. Indeed, there was a Beatles theme to the movie. Much of the background music was Beatles songs performed by contemporary artists. One might even recall "Abbey Road" as Sam and his entourage of likewise challenged friends traipsed across a street in the same style of the fab four.

Dakota Fanning performed clearly above the requirements of the part. Her diction was impeccable. Her style was not forced. Her facial and other non-verbal expressions were not cardboard. Her variations in character and delivery were well above "Acting 101." Dakota is truly a contender for stardom. And that is scary. I say "scary" because each time I see a precious little girl becoming a star I fear that she will suffer the fate reported of Shirley Temple and only God knows how many other starlets. Let us pray Dakota does not suffer the evil with which Shirley was reportedly violated.

Sam was a dedicated star employee of Starbuck's cafe. He neatly arranged every table and chair, every sweetener holder and even the different brands of sweetener in them. As a productive wage-earner, Sam decided to take Lucy home. With the occasional help of a caring neighbor lady knowledgeable in caring for babies, Sam succeeds in raising Lucy to school age.

One of Lucy's school drawings pictured her and Sam standing hand-in-hand. But what was "wrong" with the picture was she stood twice as tall as Sam, as if she were the parent; the protector. Seven-year old Lucy is discovered by child welfare Dobermans to be equal in development and intelligence to her father. They want to place Lucy in foster care since they surmise Sam will not be able to keep up with Lucy's development. Sam's only defense at this point is "All You Need is Love." Sam needs a lawyer.

Enters Michelle Pfeiffer playing lawyer Rita Harrison, a high-priced professional, career-dirven neglectful mother of one son, completely dissatisfied with her husband. Sam visits Harrison and tries to convince her to take his case. After initial attempts of Harrison to brush off Sam, peer pressure from her associates snookers Harrison into taking Sam's case pro bono. Such a promising opportunity for character- and relationship-building in the movie was poisoned.

ALL of the foul language in this movie came from Pfeiffer. And none of it did anything to support the plot, theme or cast. None. Pfeiffer was good enough at playing the selfish and neglectful career-exclusive mother without it. This is likely a clear example of planting filth to get a more severe rating to entice the teen dollars (more than twice as many non-adults see movies each week than adults). What moviegoers with any kind of money would go to a G-rated non-cartoon movie clearly outside of the likely interests of young children?

Despite some quality courtroom drama performances favoring Sam keeping his daughter, the story takes Lucy away from Sam and gives her to a foster family, Bill and Randy Carpenter (Will Wallace, Laura Dern). The Carpenters want to adopt Lucy and a custody battle ensues. Anyone who has been sensitized by recent custody battles over adopted children will feel the pain portrayed in this part of the movie.

I have given away quite a bit of detail of this movie, but rest assured there is much more to it. The level of detail I have given you is only slightly above that revealed in the trailers and previews.

This movie is a paradox. A great movie poisoned with vulgar language. What to do? As always, we objectively tell you what is in a movie (the Findings/Scoring section) so you can make an informed decision whether it is fit for you and/or your family.

In addition to the language problem, I Am Sam presented a few other issues of likely concern to mom/dad. Convenience lies touted to have a useful purpose [Prov. 19:5, Prov. 26:28]. Excessive cleavage. A birth by immoral sex [Hebr. 13:4]. Adolescent arrogance against a parent and "I hate you" from a little girl to her father while hitting him [Eph. 6:2]. A child repeatedly sneaking out of her residence and traipsing through the city streets alone [Prov. 22:15]. Some exceptionally ripping emotional scenes effective enough to not need experiential maturity to be torn by them. There is more, but I will leave them to the listing in the Findings/Scoring section.


If needed to focus or fortify, applicable text is underlined or bracketed [ ]. If you wish to have full context available, the Blue Letter Bible is a convenient source. If you use the Blue Letter Bible, a new window will open. Close it to return here or use "Window" in your browser's menu bar to alternate between the CAP page and the Blue Letter Bible page.

  • Col. 3:8 But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.
  • Deut. 5:11 Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain [vain: shav' {shawv}; false, emptiness, nothingness, lying, worthlessness (of conduct)]: for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
  • Matt. 12:36 But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.
  • Prov. 19:5 A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who pours out lies will not go free.
  • Prov. 26:28 A lying tongue hates those it hurts...
  • Hebr. 13:4 Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.
  • Eph. 6:2 Honour thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise;
  • Prov. 22:15 Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him. [Note that the "rod of correction" does NOT have to be physical punishment]

    *******Food for Thought*******
  • 1 Cor. 15:33 (KJV) Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners. (NIV) Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character.
  • Jude 4 For certain men* whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord. [*men: anthropos {anth'-ro-pos}, generic, a human being, whether male or female]
  • Matt. 25:40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto [or for] one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto [or for] me.
  • Luke 17:2 It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. [cause by teaching or example]

    As always, it is best to refer to the Findings/Scoring section -- the heart of the CAP analysis model -- for the most complete assessment possible of this movie.

    I Am Sam (2001) CAP Thermometers

    Wanton Violence/Crime (W):
  • reckless driving
  • exceptionally ripping emotional scenes

    Impudence/Hate (I)(1):
  • five uses of the three/four letter word vocabulary
  • a single use of the most foul of the foul words
  • desertion by a mother
  • adult tantrum
  • order to lie
  • lies
  • arrogance against mother
  • a little girl lying to avoid legal proceedings
  • "I hate you!!!" by a little girl to her father while hitting him
  • a child repeatedly sneaking out of her residence and on the city streets alone

    Sex/Homosexuality (S):
  • birth by sexual immorality
  • excessive cleavage
  • prostitute

    Drugs/Alcohol (D):
  • booze

    Offense to God (O)(2):
  • six uses of God's name in vain with the four letter expletive and five without

    Murder/Suicide (M)(3):
  • none noted

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    NOTE: The CAP Analysis Model makes no scoring allowances for trumped-up "messages" to excuse or for manufacturing of justification for aberrant behavior or imagery, or for camouflaging such ignominy with "redeeming" programming. Disguising sinful behavior in a theme plot does not excuse the sinful behavior of either the one who is drawing pleasure or example from the sinful display or the practitioners demonstrating the sinful behavior. This is NOT a movie review service. It is a movie analysis service to parents and grandparents to tell them the truth about movies using the Truth.

    "There are some in the entertainment industry who maintain that 1) violent programming is harmless because no studies exist that prove a connection between violent entertainment and aggressive behavior in children, and 2) young people know that television, movies, and video games are simply fantasy. Unfortunately, they are wrong on both accounts." And "Viewing violence may lead to real life violence." I applaud these associations for fortifying 1 Cor. 15:33. Read the rest of the story. From our nearly seven years of study, I contend that other aberrant behaviors, attitudes, and expressions can be inserted in place of "violence" in that statement. Our Director - Child Psychology Support, a licensed psychologist and certified school psychologist concurs. For example, "Viewing arrogance against fair authority may lead to your kids defying you in real life." Or "Viewing sex may lead to sex in real life." Likewise and especially with impudence, hate and foul language. I further contend that any positive behavior can be inserted in place of "violence" with the same chance or likelihood of being a behavior template for the observer; of being incorporated into the behavior mechanics and/or coping skills of the observer. In choosing your entertainment, please consider carefully the "rest of the story" and our findings.

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    (1) As noted in CAP Special Report-001, "Investigation Area and Scoring Trend," of the six CAP Investigation Areas, Impudence/Hate was the strongest presence in all four movie classifications. It has a strong revelation about the entertainment media.

    (2) The use of the three/four letter word vocabulary without God's name in vain is incorporated into the Impudence/Hate Investigation Area. The use of God's name with or without the four letter expletive is incorporated into the Offense to God Investigation Area. There is no duplication.

    (3) Only portrayal of successful murder or suicide are incorporated into Murder/Suicide. Portrayal of attempts to commit murder or suicide and deaths by police action or war are incorporated into Wanton Violence/Crime.

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