Director: Mike Cahill. Starring: Michael Pitt, Steven Yeun, Brit Marling, Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey. USA, 2014. IMDb: 7.3. My rating: 3/4. Science, fiction, love, drama, reflection (in any order).
(conversation between Sofi and Ian)
“I Origins” is a tricky film. Probably it is the most difficult review I’ve ever written so far, as my impression passed from initial delight to dubious perplexity then finishing with some insight and comprehension. The film is deceitfully easy to watch as it is gorgeous visually with some good acting (especially Michael Pitt was a great discovery) and warm affectionate soundtrack. But it may not be easy to read the main message – like many good directors, Cahill tries to leave enough space for various interpretations because here main arguments are pretty sensitive – science and religion. The result may anger those viewers, who interpret ”I Origins” in too straightforward manner, while others will adore it (and if you have a look at various reviews, this is exactly what happened). Both are right – yes, the film is uneven, but still, ”I Origins” is a very good science fiction movie. It also has more of real science than fiction.
By the way, long-time friends and collaborators Brit Marling, Mike Cahill and Zal Batmanglij are an interesting case indeed. After graduation, Marling became quickly disappointed in making career in finance world, so she spentbsome time on Cuba with Mike Cahill to shoot the documentary “Boxers and Ballerinas”. Later all three of them moved to Los Angeles. The breakthrough came in 2011, when Cahill directed, wrote and produced his debut film “Another Planet” and Batmanglij directed, wrote and produced his debut movie “Sound of My Voice”. Marling had the main role, co-wrote and co-produced both movies. Both were highly praised everywhere and were great independent science fiction films with lots of depth and little special effects. Currently Marling and Batmanglij are working on Netflix series “The OA”. What a wonderful story of mutual support and fruitful friendship, isn’t it?
”I Origins” an elegant and emotional attempt to discuss once again science and religion, without trying to convince anyone in the superiority of any of them, but rather showing how both can coexist and develop. After success of “Another Earth”, the director Mike Cahill is surely more confident and mature – technically “I Origins” is a beautiful picture with marvelous soundtrack that follows the mood of the film. From first frames you feel that Cahill fore sure did find his own vibe – the story absorbs you with its confident pace and visuals. The plot is trying to balance between the scientific/religious part of the story and love drama. Nevertheless, none of them feel explored too thoroughly. Still, the acting is highly sincere and convicing. I especially appreciated Michael Pitt’s performance as a cocky scientist who is slowly learning to be more open-minded. The other two roles by Brit Marling and Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey seemed somehow monotone… for a movie that is discussing science and religion, their roles were just a little too straightforward. It’s probably the fault of the script though – Brit Marling is a very good actress and knows how to express all kind of emotions with subtlety (“Sound of My Voice” being a great example). Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey was a perfect cast too for this role, but seemed just too looped in her character’s way of thinking.
The plot. Dr. Ian Grey (Michael Pitt) is obsessed with human eye, conducting a research about its origins. He hopes to find the proof of its evolution, since he is contrary to various religious beliefs that the eye is the evidence of divine human nature. With Kenny (Steven Yeun) and Karin (Brit Marling), they select various species on different steps of evolution including those completely blind. Soon Ian begins a love story with Sofi, whose views on world are different. This is just the beginning of the movie – few words about the plot would be more than enough as the rest you will discover by yourself.
What makes ”I Origins” particularly interesting is how it was originated and shaped by Cahill. Firstly, in an interview he says, “From a technological standpoint, it’s a great way to ID a person. And since the eye has also enticed poets since the dawn of civilization, it seemed like a wonderful meeting place for two of my greatest passions – science and spirituality.”
A scientist once asked the Dalai Lama, “What would you do if something scientific disproved your religious beliefs?” And he said, after much thought, “I would look at all the papers. I’d take a look at all the research and really try to understand things. And in the end, if it was clear that the scientific evidence disproved my spiritual beliefs, I would change my beliefs.”
Secondly, we all know this picture by Steve McCurry for National Geographic, right? Cahill read tons of these magazines as a kid and even worked for NG later as his first job, making sea life documentaries. This iconic photo of an Afghani girl, taken by McCurry in 1987, has an astonishing story. He took it in a refugee camp and was stunned with the girl’s green eyes, but didn’t take any note about her identity. 17 year later, after several unsuccessful attempts, McCurry found her and you know how? Though an iris scan. A biometrics company did the scanning (using McCurry’s photo!) of thousands of people living in that area and eventually found that girl. Her name is Sharbat Gula. It was the first time she saw a child photo of herself. You can easily find more on her… After founding our her identity, National Geographic helped her and her family to cover the medical costs. Incredible story. It also helps to shed light on the final part of the film that may seem… well, doubtful.
Thirdly, ”I Origins” is more about science than fiction. The movie makes you actually wonder about the things Ian and Karen are researching. Cahill said in an interview, ”All the science in the movie is real. That’s all based on real stuff. Iris biometrics, India being the national program, that’s real. Color blind mice being modified to have color vision is real. Worms having two senses modified to have three is real.”
Worth watching? Maybe. Decide by yourself. ”I Origins” is a curious indie sci-fi film, even though I foresee that somebody will strongly disagree, while most will praise. Watch it on one condition – with as open mind as possible and don’t be tricked by its visuals and emotional fragility. I think there’s more than this. It is uneven – I wish the characters would develop bigger complexity, but still an original and sensitive film. You can read and interpret it in many ways, which is always a good sign. It won’t bring you to a ready conclusion, rather makes you reflect about it. Mike Cahill, together with his long-time collaborators Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij, the mighty trio, is becoming more mature and confident in his filming – ”I Origins” not in last place is a visual feast. It’s definitely worth waiting his future projects.