Not a prequel to any Pad, Pod, Phone or Robot, I Origins is the latest offering from the minds that brought us Another Earth. Forgoing flashy set pieces and eye-popping CGI, writer-director Mike Cahill concocts a film that plants the tiniest of ideas in your mind and then allows you to do the leg-work whilst he bathes you in something both cerebral and ethereal.
Dr. Ian Gray (Michael Pitt) is a scientist adamant to disprove some religious theories that the human eye, of which there are no two identical on the planet, is proof of the existence of a higher power. At a Halloween party one night he meets a masked girl, Sofi (Astrid Bergè-Frisbey), who happens to posses startling eyes, before she vanishes without a trace from his life. That is until he follows a series of randomly placed numbers that lead him back to her. Embarking on a whirlwind romance Sofi’s spiritual beliefs grate on Ian’s scientific knowledge. But, no sooner have Ian and Sofi fallen in love, a tragic event takes her away from him.
Meanwhile Ian’s experiments into the origins of the human eye have a breakthrough thanks to his lab assistant Karen (Brit Marling). With the loss of Sofi still hanging over him, Ian and Karen become more than just colleagues and years later are happily married with a newborn son. But when a doctor starts to run tests on their son they soon discover that their theories into the human eye and the non-existence of an after-life are called into question.
If the plot for I Origins sounds complicated it isn’t, it’s just long-winded. And in many ways is the film’s only real fault. The first half is very much a romance, Cahill basking everything in sun-filled glow while Ian is awash with happiness and love for Sofi. But by the second act we’re firmly into the crux of the film that is arguably why we’re here.
It’s slightly frustrating therefore, or perhaps in keeping with Cahill’s own beliefs, that the second act of the film, which focuses more on ideas of science rather than romance, is considerably colder, as if Ian’s relationship with Karen is nothing more than a functionary one. This is empahsised when, in the final act, he travels to Indian and is once again drowned in the sunshine from the first act and in danger of suffering from sunburn.
But whilst the structure doesn’t always work the ideas on offer are never anything less than engaging. I Origins, like Cahill’s debut Another Earth, is a wonderfully philosophical journey down a rabbit hole of faith and destiny against the logic that science throws at us. What Cahill does so well is to never let the story usurp the premise. Here theme and character are king as opposed to taking things to a high concept level. As such I Origins gets inside your head and challenges your own beliefs. Some will be frustrated that it never offers definitive answers but that is key to Cahill’s goal, he wants you to make your own mind up rather than him spoon-feeding you answers.
The cast all play their very specific roles to good effect. Marling, one of Hollywood’s most under-appreciated talents, perfectly balances her Karen with a pragmatic approach mixed with a charm and affection buried just beneath the surface. Bergè-Frisbey, best known as the forgettable mermaid in Pirates Of The Caribbean 4, is waif-like and intentionally overwrought. Her opening dialogue will make you cringe with its pretentious manners but this is the point of the character. She is adorably innocent and often just a little too angelic to feel like a fully realised character, more a metaphor of everything Ian refuses to believe in. And for that purpose alone she works perfectly in the role. Meanwhile Michael Pitt, an actor who for too long has not been allowed a shot at the mainstream, carries the film on his more than able shoulders. His Ian is quiet, slightly foppish and geeky but as a character to invest in it’s hard not to appreciate his conflicted journey.
Haunting and uplifting in a deeply philosophical way; I Origins is the kind of film that manages to spark debate in your own mind, let alone those you discuss it with.