By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Michael Pitt, Brit Marling, Steven Yeun, and Astrid Bergie-Frisbey
Destiny and love are two emotions that lead us on different paths throughout this incredible journey called life. But what happens when the two intersect? Why do people depend on science or faith to feel like they are living lives of deeper understanding, while a balance of both would be the most formidable option? And what happens when fate pushes you towards the consequences of your emotional decisions, even while you think you are doing the scientifically logical thing? These questions are only the beginning of what ends up being asked by I Origins, the sophomore effort from writer/director Mike Cahill. Three years after his first film Another Earth (also starring Marling) became a darling of the 2011 festival circuit, Cahill has put together a film that asks just as many questions as its predecessor. And while the answers are about as cloudy as a newly chlorinated swimming pool, that doesn’t mean the waters of the storytelling at hand are not interesting to swim in.
I Origins’ ambitiously endearing plot involves the work of Dr Ian Grey (Pitt), and his fascination with the human eye. While he and his colleagues Kenny (Yeun, taking a break from the monotony that is The Walking Dead TV show) and Karen (Marling) explore the evolution of the eye, Ian is dead set on his ways of thinking and where his scientific discoveries are going to take him. The path of Ian’s obsession becomes more emotional than scientific however, when an encounter with a mostly masked female named Sofi (Frisbey) and its after effects lead him on a puzzling journey that questions what it means to have a soul. Especially when that soul, and the person behind it, is missing and/or dead.
I will leave the plot description at that, and would definitely encourage anyone reading this to go into the film as cold as possible. Despite its themes of love, faith, and reincarnation, I Origins is surprisingly and remarkably grounded in reality. There aren’t as many scenes of spectacle as there are of Ian and Karen in a lab, but that is exactly what makes I Origins as philosophical as it is relatable. There is the added notion of the meaning behind ‘lucky 11s,’ and the way Cahill explores this theme while integrating it into his plot is nothing short of incredible. I Origins is a movie of big ideas and even bigger narratives. Yet Cahill skates the course of this thin ice very gracefully, and unlike filmmakers like Paul Thomas Anderson and Darren Aronofsky, never uses his story as a hint of pretension behind his intentions.
As far as the performances go, they all serve the story’s purpose well. Pitt (TV’s Hannibal) is excellently relatable as Ian. His beliefs, all of which are completely outlined in I Origins’ first half, are given in such a way that no matter which end you do believe, it will not hinder your ability to like Ian as a character due to Pitt’s undeniable charm. Marling (who was in Cahill’s previous feature as well) is once again excellent, and her role in I Origins doesn’t really take complete shape until the film’s second half. Frisbey (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides) is the type of actress who can look incredibly glamorous in one shot, and then shockingly normal in the next. Yet her chemistry with Pitt, and where it takes them, would not be possible without her carefully outlined and emotionally believable line deliveries.
All of the directorial decisions Cahill makes point to meanings behind the film’s overall narrative. For instance, both Karen and Ian wear glasses, seemingly making it even more difficult for their souls (of which it has long been proclaimed are visible through the eye, otherwise known as the soul’s window) to be seen. It is a plot point that Cahill obviously has a good time exploiting. Some of the time he does so through the most obvious of scenes, and others in extremely subtle ways. It is this dubious means of storytelling which can also tell the entire story of how powerful and daring a film I Origins really is. Crafting a film about the origin of the eye and leading it down to a series of answers contained in a variety of urban streetscapes is a dangerous proposition. But Cahill carefully divides I Origins into two integral halves that are both as interesting as the inside of an iris after a succession of blinking. Armed with a deeply layered and well thought out script, incredible performances by all, gripping cinematography by Markus Forderer, and a brilliant score Will Bates & Phil Mossman, I Origins is a film that cannot be missed. Dot this eye. You will be glad you did.