Bad movies, good ideas: Love me do

“All you need is love.”-The tagline of “I Am Sam”

We put a lot of stock in reality.

Admit it — when you go shopping for food, you demand real Chicken In A Biskit crackers. If I pulled a switcheroo and gave you Anti-Biskit In A Biskit crackers instead, you’d be outraged.

And let’s be honest: When you’re barhopping with your friends, you expect to imbibe the smooth, cracklin’ freshness that is bona fide Zima. Tolerance for imitation freshness is at an all-time low, from what I understand.

Come on, now. Don’t lie. You know you’re always looking for genuineness in art, “realness” in friends and reassurance that you exist not as a pixilated automaton in one of God’s “Sims” scenarios, but as a real person confronting the very real realities of the REAL world.

Real, real, real.

I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of that word. Real. It’s just so, I don’t know, burdensome to always have to submit to that overflowing outhouse we call “reality.” I just want to live in Hogwarts, but no — not real, they say.

Reality. Pshh. What a crock. Who needs it?

Apparently, not director Jessie Nelson and writer Kristine Johnson, wordcrafters of the 2001 feel-good phenom “I Am Sam.” The film, which traces a cognitively disabled man’s relatively easy battle to gain legal custody of his daughter, is the most unrealistic piece of filmmaking ever conceived.

But those who dismiss this gem because of “unbelievability” and specious claims of manipulativeness have missed the boat.

This is a film that looks at our gestalt reality — the reality of American society — and says, “You’re not any more real than I am.”

And indeed, “Sam” has a point. Or rather, Nelson and Johnson have a point: Art and life inhabit mutually exclusive realms, so what’s the point of trying to synthesize reality at all?

Hey, if French literary theorist Jean Baudrillard is right, our reality has become so degraded and ensconced in what he calls simulations and simulacra (mere illusions of reality) that we’re left only with the hyperreal — a reality we identify as real, but which is false and self-perpetuating.

In the hyperreality of “I Am Sam,” it is not only plausible but expected that Sam Dawson (played by Sean Penn) sires a child with a homeless woman who runs away (literally runs) after she pops out little Lucy (played by Dakota Fanning).

It makes perfect sense that somehow, with the help of resident agoraphobe Annie (played by Dianne Wiest), Sam raises the precocious Lucy, who, the film hints, is actually a 45-year-old comp lit professor at Berkeley trapped in a 7-year-old’s body.

Still with me? Good.

When Child Services comes to take Lucy away — something about Sam’s cognitive deficiency and Starbucks wage impeding his capability to care for a child — it goes without saying that Sam finagles a pro-bono deal out of notorious b-to-the-itch Rita (played by Michelle Pfeiffer), who immediately reassesses her individualist lifestyle and opts to sacrifice her high-powered job to spend more time with her kid.

And of course, the rest of “I Am Sam” plays out in a postmodern vacuum: The film hurls teary life lessons at the audience, Sam’s simple charm softens recalcitrant jerks into well-balanced humanitarians and Sam reacquires the aforementioned child, with whom he lives happily ever after.

“All you need is love” makes the transition from sappy metaphor to California statute.

At this point, some of you must be thinking, “What the hell? You’ve got to be kidding me. This is ridiculous.”

In the words of Alec Baldwin, let me straighten you out.

This is real life, pure and simple life. And if life is reality — and, to paraphrase the Bhagavad Gita and several Beat writers, life is love — then “Sam” bespeaks a reality as real as quotidian existence in Sandy, Reykjavik, Watts or Djibouti.

It’s just not the reality to which you choose to subscribe.

In his persuasive writings, Philip K. Dick espouses the notion that societal reality is only one of countless other, equally valid realities. Thus in his view, it’s irresponsible and ignorant to claim that a person “suffering from” what may or may not be a real disease called “schizophrenia” doesn’t operate in reality. He or she simply operates in another, disparate reality, as do people under the influence of LSD.

“I am Sam’s” reality — marked by the film’s bluish tints, which could, I suppose, also be a shout-out to Picasso — is, at the very least, a wake-up call to the complacent and misinformed.

Reality isn’t reality! Ding-dong, the witch is dead!

“Real” is a non sequitur. Your existence is fragmentary and probably composed of a multitude of simulacra. One could even go so far as to infer that REM’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” has begun to realize.

And most terrifying of all, “I Am Sam” presents an equally viable reality to our own.

It’s a good thing all we need is love.

This has been Ben Zalkind reminding you — with help from my favorite Utah Randian, Andrew Vidrine — that bad movies make you think. See you at the University of Chicago, Ash. Wait, no I won’t.