Sundance 2014: Mike Cahill's 'I Origins' is Deeply Thought-Provoking
by Alex Billington
January 19, 2014
Do you believe in science? Or do you believe in God? In today's age of technology, how does one convince the other? These are the questions that I Origins, the second sci-fi film from Mike Cahill (at Sundance 2011 with Another Earth), attempts to address in delicate ways. It's a breathtaking, chilling, beautiful film that wraps a love story around a scientific attempt to disprove the existence of God, but where does it lead? Does it answer questions? That's not the point. It's a film that makes you think, makes you consider your own beliefs, even if just for a second. Because when that moment comes, if you feel chills, it has done its job.
If you've seen Another Earth already, you'll know that Mike Cahill loves to explore big, bold ideas about existentialism and identity without actually answering the bigger questions or solving problems. Instead, he presents ideas and characters that, through their own struggles and stories, explore the depths of what makes us who we are and makes audiences think more intensely about their own beliefs. He does this by touching on identity and concepts like the "soul", which is a key term discussed in I Origins. In the film we follow two young scientists studying the evolution of the eye, the "window to the soul", and whether or not it actually means something more or whether they can prove that it evolved like all other organisms that exist.
The film primarily focuses on one staunch character, Ian Gray, played by the highly underrated Michael Pitt, a young doctor doing research on the eye. He meets a beautiful young woman, played by Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, who he falls for after finding her because of her very unique eyes. We also meet a new "first year" researcher, played by Brit Marling, who joins Dr. Gray in his research. There are a few other characters that are important, including those played by Steven Yeun and Archie Panjabi, but it's best not to give away too much of the story. This is a film that must be experienced knowing as little as possible.
Oddly, I was not a fan of Another Earth at all, but I Origins puts that film to shame. It's shot perfectly with so many mesmerizing moments that linger on a face or scene, spanning from New York City to the slums of New Dehli, India. It's the kind of film that remains compelling and puts you on the edge-of-your-seat until the end, wondering where it's going and if it's going to prove anything or not. Some may be dissatisfied with the path it takes, or consider it "cheesy" in the way it attempts to address these issues, but I feel differently. I believe it's much more about what is not said, and what we are shown/what we do hear, than it is about being handed over the answers. Some may find these decisions frustrating, but I found it utterly captivating.
Where I Origins succeeds is in how much depth it has in simplicity. There are seemingly disconnected or pointless moments that many will wonder if they have any importance. The importance of these moments can't be found on the surface, but rather deep within the ideas that film presents. From choosing India as a location in the second half (related to Buddhism) to the characters and their ages to the random connections in the story. It's better not to give away any details, because the power of the film is in making the audience think for themselves, and process what they're seeing without actually processing the lines being spoken.
The entire concept behind the film, in my own interpretation, can be distilled down into one conversation between Michael Pitt and Archie Panjabi. She tells him a story about when the Dalai Lama was asked that if they found enough evidence to disprove God, what would his reaction be. He said that if he read all the evidence, all the research, and it was irrefutable, he would accept that reality. But she spins this on him, and asks that, if some kind of evidence, and research suddenly disproves science, how would he respond? If that doesn't make your head spin, then maybe this isn't for you. I Origins is a brilliant, beautiful, subtle film that makes us question our own beliefs, one way or another, while also teaching us about the profundity of love.
Alex's Sundance 2014 Rating: 9.5 out of 10
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