close
close

Film review of “I Origins” | DAMN GIANT ROBOT

By Brent McKnight | Updated

It was a big summer for science fiction movies, both in terms of the number of options and the sheer size and spectacle. We had giant robots (Transformers: Age of Extinction), giant prehistoric monsters (Godzilla) and big movie stars like Tom Cruise (Edge of Tomorrow).

And that doesn’t even take into account a swarm of super-smart monkeys (Planet of the Apes: Revolution), who recently arrived, or the gang of juvenile turtles (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) and the talking raccoon in space (Protector of the Galaxy) that have yet to arrive.

If you're looking for something a little quieter, something with a lot more ideas than explosions and animated creatures, you definitely need to check out Mike Cahill's indie sci-fi feature. I Origins. I had concerns before making the film.

I'm not a fan of Cahill's latest esoteric take on the genre, Another Earth, and all the trailers make it look like one of those stories where outlandish, unsubstantiated claims and annoying hippie “but how do you really know” nonsense push science and facts aside.

While I Origins is definitely a film that pits science against faith. Cahill, who wrote as well as directed, strikes a solid, sensible balance between the two sides and lets you draw your own conclusions. The result is worth your time and will likely inspire lively, intelligent conversation long after you leave the theater.

I Origins follows Dr. Ian Gray (Michael Pitt), a tousled-haired hipster scientist who is fascinated by the evolution of the human eye and works to disprove the existence of God.

I OriginsThe main purpose is to try to reconcile these two seemingly different ends of the spectrum and to show that science and spirituality are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

On the surface, this sounds impossible, and I don't want to dwell on it too much as it would destroy the thematic thrust of the film. But as surprising as it may be, Cahill once again finds a happy medium where the two sides can occupy the same space.

There are two women in Ian's life, each representing a different side of this debate. His lab partner, Karen (Brit Marling), shares his analytical mind and devotion to hard data.

In I OriginsWhen he meets the free-spirited, passionate and poetic Sofi (Astrid Bergnes-Frisbey), she opens up a world of emotions that is at odds with his measured, logical professional life. She forces his scientific mind to examine and process love, loss and emotions in a way he never has before.

What begins as a comparison that highlights the differences ends with the realization that the differences may not actually be as big as they seem at first glance.

I Origins

Cahill wins the I Origins The plot and characters take unexpected turns, including Ian being dragged across the world to search for something that shouldn't exist. Pitt and Marling play their critical, rational characters perfectly, giving them a humanity that makes them sympathetic when they very easily could have been cold and distant.

Although Bergnes-Frisbey has a little to hide beneath her pretty facade, she primarily relies on her beauty and seductive accent to get by. It's easy to see why Ian, or anyone else, would fall in love with her, despite a frustrating and stubborn inability or unwillingness to accept anything as final. Steven Yeun from The Walking Dead also appears as Ian's colleague, friend and roommate, providing moments of levity and fun.

The whole I Origins has a very cheesy indie feel and sensibility that will turn some people off, especially the first act. Ian and Sofi have a hipster sex fantasy and meet at a Halloween party. But Cahill gives the film a unique, cool visual style that adds extra layers to a quiet, subdued story.

The eyes play an important role – thematically, plot-wise and visually – and there are numerous stunning close-ups of the retina, unique and individual like our fingerprints. He uses a series of reflections and graphic cues to guide Ian through the film, all complemented by a haunting score and soundtrack that creates a beautiful, hazy, dreamy feel.

When I Origins focuses heavily on either the science or the spiritual – embodied by Ian and Karen working feverishly in the lab, and Ian and Sofi lying naked in bed smoking cigarettes and discussing the nature of God – is where the script is at its most exhausting and the pacing falters. You're crushed by the mechanics and the minutiae and the back and forth of two sides that won't give an inch.

The time jump seven years into the future after a tragedy brings with it some jumps and coincidences that are of a questionable nature and are given more importance than they actually have.

Cahill's fabricated pseudoscience is a sticking point in some cases, though not as many as one would expect, and the film is at its best when it focuses on the people and their interpretations and reactions to the events.

There are no concrete conclusions one way or the other, and although I Origins has interesting points and is more open, inviting and convincing than Another Earththe ultimate purpose is never clear, and while some viewers will fall in love, it won't work for everyone.