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Fox Searchlight Pictures // R // July 18, 2014
List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Fandango]
Few independent filmmakers have made waves across film festivals in the way that writer/director Mike Cahill has. His feature Another Earth received a lot of attention throughout the motion picture community, which caused a lot of excitement to develop within viewers for his newest feature. This time, he's exploring the "science vs. spirituality" topic, which will surely split audiences. Regardless of the controversial subject, Cahill's I Origins handles the material in a way that may be a problem for some audiences. You'll either become immersed in the story and its characters, or perhaps it could feel a bit contrived. Coming from somebody who isn't necessarily religious, this is an intriguing look at a man's discovery of himself, as well the world around him.
Ian (Michael Pitt) is a molecular biologist who has been studying eyes for years. One day, he receives an intern named Karen (Brit Marling), who proves to be impressive enough to ultimately become his lab partner. Through hard work and dedication, they're able to uncover evidence that may fundamentally change the world as we know it.
I Origins is largely about mystery and how the protagonists handle the unknown. This starts at the moment the film begins, as Ian meets a masked woman at a party. He takes pictures of her eyes, and he's instantly amazed by the beauty found within them. After she leaves in a hurry, he feels the need to research her and find out more. What begins as a fascination turns into a romance between a scientist and a more spiritual individual, who we learn is named Sofi (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey). This relationship is crucial to the direction in which the picture is moving. It's clear that their personalities and beliefs clash, but that's part of what makes it so exciting for the couple. Unfortunately, I didn't entirely buy the connection between them, primarily due to how Sofi is portrayed. We're supposed to like her, but she ultimately comes across as being a bit irritating. This is perhaps my biggest gripe about the film. I cared more about the message that the role had to offer much more than I did for the character herself. Once a major plot point takes hold, I Origins makes some major improvements.
Writer/director Mike Cahill takes on a motion picture with incredibly large messages expected from a much bigger film. This independent sci-fi drama only improves from this point on. It takes on a different direction that is only hinted at through the earlier portion of the story. After Ian and Sofi's relationship abruptly ends, he marries Karen years later. This time jump brings us to a period where the couple is faced with a possible study that might change how we view science and religion forever. Some of the connections between the two can feel a bit too obvious, but others are unique and bold ways of challenging this discussion in a way that few other motion pictures are able to do. Fortunately, this isn't a film that preaches either science, nor religion. Rather, it introduces the Dalai Lama's concept of open-mindedness. Most movies would try to convince us to follow one or the other, but I Origins asks us to look at the world with our eyes open. This is a fresh way of looking at what could have potentially been a tired concept.
While there are some large plot points that are meant to get emotional responses, a lot of the film's power can be found within the picture's more subtle moments. After Ian and Karen uncover an incredible revelation, it leads to Ian having to gain closure by traveling out of the country in order to possibly find proof of a new theory. While it may not have the same effect on everyone, this third act has a much more powerful impact than any other act of the film's duration. Even if you found some of the plot revelations to be a bit stiff, this is when I Origins truly comes across as being genuine. I was entirely immersed in Ian and Karen's journey to both closure and a discovery that could change life as we know it. There aren't very many pictures that will leave you still feeling what the movie wants you to feel after the credits are done rolling, which will undoubtedly spark a discussion between viewers.
One of the major reasons why I Origins works is due to the cast. Michael Pitt is utterly convincing as Ian. His story of closure and discovery becomes entirely personal due to Pitt's believable performance. Even though I didn't care much for the character of Sofi, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey does what she can with the role. If the screenplay created a more honest tone between the two of them, these actors would have certainly portrayed a more genuine relationship on screen. Brit Marling once again shines in the role of Karen. While we don't get the chance to explore as much of this character, Marling makes a wonderful addition to the list of positives. This is a very capable cast that works together reasonably well.
Writer/director Mike Cahill has an intriguing visual design that will truly pull audiences to the screen. Everything from the color palette to the perspective that the camera takes upon itself will ultimately keep your eyes glued to the picture. As soon as a time jump occurs or there is a major location change, the tone accommodates a different atmosphere with ease. A lot of this immersion should also be credited to the music choices and the film's wonderful score that carries through each scene with a certain moody elegance that fits the story to perfection. Cahill might not have many motion pictures under his belt, but he has proven that he has a superb sense of visual style.
There's an abundance of deep concepts and messages to be found in I Origins. While some audiences may find a couple of them to be a bit contrived, Cahill gets many of them across in a successful fashion. While the subject of "spirituality vs. science" is present, it's actually a story about open-mindedness. The world can sometimes contradict your beliefs and ideas. It's all about how we react to these bits of information. While there isn't much to like about Sofi's character, she stands for something so important. This is a piece of cinema that certainly has a lot to say, and it's up to you whether or not you're willing to listen. I Origins is an engaging picture that incites discussion, as any decent piece of cinema should. Recommended.