Overview: A scientist who has made it a goal to discredit intellectual design through researching the human eye falls in love with a spiritual woman whose eyes change his life in unseen ways. Verisimilitude/Wework Studios/Bersin Pictures; 2014; Rated R; 118 Minutes.
Stumbling at the Block: In its rush to move right into heavy questions and deep pondering, I Origins‘ script leaves its actors and characters (and in some ways its story) struggling to keep up in the first act. The science is fascinating and sharp, the spirituality at times poetic, but the inter-character dialogue is in turns stifled and trite. The first and second encounters of Ian (Michael Pitt) and Sofi (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) ,the film’s central lovers, is too unbelievably loaded in whimsy to be affective. However, when the ambition slows and the performances catch up, a nice harmony is established.
The Good Stretch: At its best, I Origins is a film built on fine performances. As a new couple (after those overtly hip and insincere initial encounters), Pitt and Frisbey have a free-spirited but fiery chemistry, the sort of onscreen love that’s so passionate that audiences believe in it out of hopeful envy. As Karen, Ian’s lab assistant, Brit Marling quietly offers the film’s strongest presence, more human than her two leads who are utilized more as tools to progress the larger point. Marling is one of those up-and-coming young acting talents for whom there seems to be no ceiling of limitation, and here, she climbs a few stories higher. As these actors are at their best, the film is innovatively grafitti’d by images of science and spirituality that highlight themes and the conditions of its characters. Some of these images are just visually striking– the white peacock taking flight, for example. Others, like the appearance of pupils within the eyes of the cemetery statue or the changing expressions within the family portrait, are downright haunting.
The Dishonest Finish Line: In his first effort, Another Earth, Cahill proved himself passingly adept at exploring the human condition on an existential plane. In his follow up, he proves himself capable of posing even more loaded questions. I Origins is naked and direct with its intent to measure the sometimes contentious gap that exists between data-driven science and faith-based spiritual belief. While an extremely difficult film topic, it is one that is fair game, even for a young filmmaker like Cahill. However, Cahill’s attempt at resolution between these two camps flops lifelessly into speculative New Age supposition. After an uncomfortably grim turn of events, the final act attempts to construct an intersection between the religious and the scientific by tying together a fictional scientific premise with a fictional spiritual one. With a generalized central point of investigation as historically real as science vs. religion, it is a dishonest artistic approach to just speculate and imagine a compromise. Sometimes its better to abstain from answering than to offer a made up guess.