I Origins (2014)
Editor’s Note: I Origins expands to theaters nationwide July 25th.
I Origins is not smart; it’s contrived in such a way to make you think it is. Mike Cahill, director of Another Earth, comes back with a story about a molecular biologist named Ian (Michael Pitt) studying the eye. At the beginning as a PhD student, he and a beautiful young woman named Sofi (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) fall in love. Fulfilling his hipster duties, Cahill has them begin this process at a fashionable NYC costume party and continue with a mutual admiration and connection with a song by The Do, a French/Finnish folk duo. Years later as an adult scientist, Ian is assigned a first-year medical student named Karen (Brit Marling) who will soon become his lab partner in the pursuit of uncovering truths about the human eye. Melodrama between Sofi, Ian, Karen, and reincarnation ensues.
I understand the sentiment behind trying to upend science with spirituality that may hold deeper truths, but creating silly, specific “spiritual” occurrences does not work at all.
The events that occur on screen are all meant to take Ian’s fact-driven lack of spirituality and challenge that. However, it does so by artificially constructing strange scenarios. The first, which feels incredibly ridiculous as it happens, is a sequence when Ian is suddenly surrounded by 11s. His convenience store purchase is $11.11, and of course he has exactly $0.11 in his pocket. The time is 11:11. 11s seem to appear in shadows on a building across the street. And finally of course, Ian realizes he’s standing right by a bus stop for the 11 bus. He gets on the bus and it leads him to something he was searching for. I understand the sentiment behind trying to upend science with spirituality that may hold deeper truths, but creating silly, specific “spiritual” occurrences does not work at all. If anything, it makes a farce of the argument it’s seriously employing. Beyond plot, the character writing feels inauthentic as well. The beginning relationship between Ian and Sofi never quite felt true. We only really see them being intimate or disagreeing about spirituality, nothing else. The audience is supposed to believe they’re in love but the presentation on screen feels a lot more like lust. Sofi justifies their love in words: their connection is spiritual, like they knew each other in past lives. This isn’t an unrealistic possibility, Cahill just wasn’t able to portray it convincingly in the film, despite deploying a classic “artsy” aesthetic. These two people seem so fundamentally different, how did this relationship work for years? To be clear, the fault is not with the actors. Michael Pitt is only above average, but Astrid Bergès-Frisbey and Brit Marling are brilliant. Their characters are secondary as the female objects of Ian’s needs and of the film’s themes. Thus, there’s only so much Bergès-Frisbey and Marling could’ve done to save what’s wrong with I Origins. The film would’ve been a lot more interesting if it focused on either of those two characters.
…but don’t count out Mike Cahill. The promise showed in Another Earth and the minor successes of I Origins make him a director worth keeping an eye on.
I Origins unequivocally fails as a whole, on many levels. However rather than being a bad movie, it’s an admirable failure. The images of eyes are breathtaking at times. The previously mentioned song, “Dust It Off” by The Do, is stunning and well used within the film. There’s even one compelling discussion between Ian and Sofi, in which she uses actual science to prove the valid possibility of a spiritual hypothesis. I Origins is probably not worth seeing in theaters, possibly not even on demand, but don’t count out Mike Cahill. The promise showed in Another Earth and the minor successes of I Origins make him a director worth keeping an eye on.
I Origins unequivocally fails as a whole, on many levels. However rather than being a bad movie, it’s an admirable failure.