I Origins (United States, 2014)

July 26, 2014
A movie review by James Berardinelli
I Origins Poster

Big ideas can sometimes lead to great motion pictures or, as in the case of I Origins, colossal misfires. A wannabe examination of faith versus science, Mike Cahill's follow-up to Another Earth fails to provide convincing dramatization of his thematic thesis. However, that's not even the film's worst sin. Poorly paced with a tendency to veer into the pretentious and littered with contrivances and dramatic short-cuts, I Origins fails to provide a single three-dimensional character or compelling relationship. Those faults more than any others make this a very long-seeming 113 minutes.

The story focuses on molecular biologist Ian (Michael Pitt), an atheist who believes only in things that he can prove scientifically. Cahill's script is pedantic in the way it handles this; the use of convincing sounding jargon doesn't make a movie scientifically accurate. Ian's research focuses on the eye. With the help of his new assistant, Karen (Brit Marling), he's on a quest to prove that the human eye has evolved and is not the product of an "Intelligent Designer." One day while at a party, Ian meets a masked girl with whom he has sex. He loses her (without getting her name or seeing her face) when she suddenly departs. Despite only having pictures of her eyes, he is able to track her down. Her learns that she is Sofi (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), a free-spirited eye model with a few secrets. They enjoy a whirlwind romance that ends tragically. After that, events force Ian to consider whether there might be things in this world that his science cannot explain. For instance, is it possible for an individual to be reincarnated and maintain a connection to the people and places that had meaning in his or her previous life?

I Origins asks some fascinating questions but the manner in which Cahill goes about addressing them is often more tedious than involving. The film fails to provide us with strong characters. As a result, Ian and Sofi come across as stereotyped philosophical mouthpieces. He's a cold, closed-minded man who refuses to accept things that he can't see or touch. She's a warm, spiritual woman who acknowledges there could be more to existence than this one life. Karen is caught between the two, not doing a whole lot beyond moving the plot forward.

Cahill is fond of shaky, handheld shots that are off-putting and distracting. His use of metaphors, especially those involving eyes, is heavy-handed and obvious. (The title being a prime example.) The final act of I Origins is its weakest. Not only does it take an inordinate time to arrive at the expected resolution, but it introduces some uncomfortable imagery. Whether by intention or happenstance, several scenes late in the movie evoke thoughts of child exploitation. What else comes to mind when seeing a 30-something year old man bringing a homeless 7-year old up to his hotel room in India?

I Origins reminded me of two other 2014 movies. The first, Winter's Tale, used a mystical backdrop to form the basis of a tale of truncated love. Like that picture, this one's abrupt shift from romance to emptiness is jarring and destabilizes the narrative's underpinning. The second, Woody Allen's Magic in the Moonlight, also attempts to prod the debate between skepticism and faith (although it arrives at a different conclusion). As with that one, I Origins makes the argument that such deliberations are perhaps best left in venues where people can talk without being hampered by poorly thought-out narratives and half-developed characters. The movie deserves some credit for tackling issues that most summer releases wouldn't imagine broaching. Its inability to do anything interesting with those issues, however, makes it less enjoyable than a competently made blockbuster.

I Origins (United States, 2014)

Director: Mike Cahill
Cast: Michael Pitt, Brit Marling, Astrid Berges-Frisbey
Screenplay: Mike Cahill
Cinematography: Markus Forderer
Music: Will Bates, Phil Mossman
U.S. Distributor: Fox Searchlight
Run Time: 1:53
U.S. Release Date: 2014-07-25
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Sexual Content, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1