I Origins

The eyes are the window into the soul in this mystifying sci-fi from Mike Cahill

Also opening this week:

• The Equalizer ★★★

I Origins


Written and directed by Mike Cahill. Starring Michael Pitt, Brit Marling, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Archie Panjabi, Cara Seymour, William Mapother, Steven Yeun.

The fact that Mike Cahill’s I Origins is able to string you along as long as it does is nothing short of miraculous. This is ribald pseudo-sci-fi gobbledygook of the highest magnitude, and yet I was riveted though 90% of it, waiting with baited breath for what was going to happen next. Kudos to Cahill, as director, for seeing it through all the way, though one wishes he had invested a little less mumbo-jumbo nonsense in his script. 

By the end, of course, the movie feels the need to kinda sorta explain itself and wrap things up into some kind tangible conclusion. And that’s where I Origins stumbles. But for most of the ride, this is the rare film where you have no idea what’s going to happen next, and what a wonderful experience that can be. 

It helps that the film at least purports to follow some kind of scientific investigation. Michael Pitt stars as Ian Gray, a graduate student studying the evolution of human eyes that in the hopes of disproving the creationist theory that the miracle of sight is proof that God exists. His experiment? Together with assistant Karen (Brit Marling), he will introduce sight in a species of worm that fits the DNA profile for ocular development. 

Or something like that. 

But this is also a love story. Gray is (naturally) fascinated with the human eye, and at a Halloween party he meets a costumed girl who has the most fascinating eyes that he has ever photographed (Gray’s hobby: collecting eye photos from random strangers that he happens across). But the girl leaves the party before he can get her digits, and Gray is left only with the picture. 

But I Origins is also… so much more. Gray begins seeing the number 11:11 everywhere (oh no… it won’t become that film, will it?) and he takes a cosmic leap that leads him too… a billboard that happens to contain the very eyes he so longs for. 11:11. Eyes. Geddit? Does God exist? 

And, well… I wouldn’t dare dream of spoiling what happens next. I Origins is partly-frustrating, mostly-fascinating, but the one thing it really has going for it is a seemingly never-ending bag of tricks that continually surprises us while keeping us hooked throughout. Most of the fun to be had here is in not knowing where this thing is going. 

Of course, it can’t possibly keep it up all the way through, and it doesn’t: climactic scenes seem ponderous and strangely unsatisfying, even as they purport to explain away some of the preceding feature’s more vague aspects. But no explanation here would have been satisfying. This one is all about the ride, and either you go with it or you don’t.  

Back in 2011, Cahill made a splash with Another Earth, another thoughtful, intelligent (or at least pseudo-intelligent) piece of science fiction that is all-too-lacking in mainstream cinema. I Origins is a little less pulled together in terms of overall design, but I found it to be a great deal more engaging; there’s something ambiguity that just goes perfectly with sci-fi. 

Note: stick around for a bizarre post-credits sequence that should have probably been excised from the finished film. 

Seen at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival 2014. 

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