Review: I Origins
In 2011, Another Earth announced the arrival of two major new talents: Mike Cahill, who handled most of the film’s major technical work, and actress and co-writer Brit Marling. The film proved divisive at MIFF, with many lauding it for its clever premise and humanity, while others derided Cahill and Marling for its misuse of said premise and a perceived woodenness in the writing and performances.
Marling has since starred in two films from Zal Batmanglij, a classmate of hers and Cahill’s: Sound of My Voice and The East, both of which played MIFF to similarly mixed receptions. That she stars in Cahill’s sophomore feature, I Origins, is no surprise, nor is its presence at MIFF. Even more expected, at this stage, is that the film has split audiences.
Dr Ian Grey (Michael Pitt) is a biologist whose research focuses on the complexity of the human eye. His intention is to find an evolutionary link to disprove the argument regularly trotted out by creationists: the eye isn’t evolutionarily explained, and therefore its existence proves the presence of intelligent design.
He reencounters gorgeous model Sofi (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) – after flubbing a hook-up at a party – thanks to a series of coincidences. Her vibrant eyes prove a particular source of fascination to him; in this sci-fi inflected reality, iris scanning has become the primary form of identification. His new lab assistant Karen (Marling), proves invaluable to him in his quest toward the eye’s origin as these disparate elements come together and the mystery of Sofi’s eyes unfolds.
Cutesy title aside, I Origins is a solid and provocative film. The series of scientific revelations throughout the film prove its most fascinating element, even if they might drift into junk science here and there. The film’s speculative approach meshes well with the earnestness of its characters and of the love story; both elements will rub some people the wrong way.
But it’s difficult not to admire Cahill’s quiet ambition when the story takes a sharp mid-film turn that entirely reshapes what follows. The beauty of Another Earth was its simplicity, using the concept of a mirror Earth as a backdrop for more intimate interplay. I Origins’ premise is loftier, and unwieldy as a result. But its heart-on-sleeve emotionality is rewarding for those able to get on the film’s wavelength.
I Origins goes some way towards clarifying exactly what Cahill’s cohort does, which some find so irksome. The film doesn’t dwell on the science vs. religion debate inherent in its metaphysical suppositions, which means that thematically it’s unlikely to ruffle feathers. Cahill’s supreme confidence in the film’s fanciful internal logic is much more likely to frustrate, but this kind of writing is the niche he appears intent on carving for himself.
A terrific piece published on The Dissolve by David Ehrlich last month explored the disjointed history of Radiohead songs in cinema. I Origins employs a couple, most notably the Kid A album closer, Motion Picture Soundtrack, over the film’s final scene. Radiohead’s music – and this song, particularly – is so singularly cinematic that it manages to both undermine and reinforce I Origins’ core. Thom Yorke intoning, “It's not like the movies / They fed us on little white lies,” near its climax doesn’t improve the film, but it’s a hell of a way to end it.