Writer/director Mike Cahill, along with frequent collaborator/muse Brit Marling, burst onto the scene back in 2011 with their critical darling debut Another Earth, which took on the ambitious task of slapping together intimate and textured human drama with big world ideas about parallel universes, they and pulled it off famously. Now Cahill is back with I, Origins, another endeavour trying to marry brainy sci-fi concepts with heart-y matters of the soul, but unfortunately, this staid union should rather have been annulled.
I, Origins’ biggest problem is that it fails clumsily at merging its two divergent train of thoughts. The first half of the movie introduces us to young science graduate student and staunch atheist Ian Gray (Michael Pitt), who is obsessed with eyes and is engaged in a years long experiment to use the mapped evolution of the eye to disprove creationist claims that its unparalleled complexity is evidence of a grand design by a higher power. All of that debate is merely background noise though to Sofi (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), the spiritual manic pixie dream girl who Ian encounters at a fancy dress party one night. Well, actually he just encounters her incredibly striking eyes (and sexual organs if you want to get anatomically specific), but through a series of mysterious, almost supernatural scenarios he is able to reconnect with her and kick off a tempestuous, opposites-attract love story that makes up half of the film’s 108-minute running time.
And it’s not that this love story is bad, not at all. Both Pitt and Berges-Frisbey put in rock solid performances, with the latter especially noted for her ephemeral turn. But Cahill’s script has the duo just chewing the narrative cud as the same arguments are ruminated on over and over again. This spinning of the wheels is especially frustrating if you’ve seen the film’s trailers, as you would know that there is a much more intriguing story element that hasn’t even been addressed yet.
This additional narrative element – all to do with spiritual reincarnation being proven through scientific evidence by Ian and his lab partner Karen (Marling) – only kicks into gear in the second half of the film, and while its initial mystery proves to be a proverbial page turner with many incredibly intriguing elements, it ultimately just sputters to a listless death. Whereas the first half of I, Origins at least had the emotional hook of Ian and Sofi’s unconventional and unexpected fairy tale to hang its story on, the film’s third act proves to be an extremely detached and plodding affair. This is accentuated by an especially aggravating “ending”, which I can really only describe as such based on the facts that the credits definitely scrolled up on-screen a few seconds later.
Coupled with that non-ending, Cahill’s ponderings on life and spirituality end up feeling hamfisted and cumbersome. I’m not one to pine for a neatly tied up plot, but there are so many frayed plot threads left dangling with the story just seeming to abruptly run out of steam, that you get the impression that his ambition may have outstripped his execution here. He is an undeniably talented filmmaker though and clearly still has a knack for delivering both dreamy, almost musical visuals as well as burrowing to the core of the human condition. But while he previously proved very adept at that particular juggling act, here the results are a lot more uneven. I wouldn’t be surprised if you were to walk out of the cinema after watching I, Origins and gave it a bit of the side eye.
Last Updated: October 1, 2014