Brit Marling has been in some remarkable movies in her young career, and has written many as well. She didn’t write this one, but it was written and directed by Mike Cahill, who directed her screenplay Another Earth into a very good film. When I saw her name in the trailer for I Origins, and saw that they were teaming up again, I was intrigued. Combine that with the controversial and mysterious subject matter, and I knew I had to go see this film.
Dr. Ian Gray (Michael Pitt) and his lab partners Kenny (Steven Yeun) and Karen (Marling), are scientists studying the evolution of the human eye. The human eye is one of the prime targets of religious leaders when questioning evolution, as it is a body part that cannot be clearly mapped from origin to it’s current state. Mapping this evolution could be firm ammo against such religious attitudes, but when Ian’s girlfriend, who is much more spiritual comes into his life, things begin to take strange turns, and he and his colleagues are forced to question their own ideas about the unknown.
I Origins was an experience. I have always been fascinated with the arguments between science and religion, and the theory of evolution is one of the highest on that list of discussions. So, naturally I was excited to hear what Mike Cahill has to say about it in this film. However, first and foremost, the film had to get an investment in it’s characters. It wisely chose to do that early and often, letting Pitt, Yeun and Marling use their wonderful, down to earth abilities get us involved in their lives, while just calmly presenting us with the concepts of evolution and their atheistic beliefs, as well as their love of hard nosed facts and ‘data points.’
Dr. Gray’s first encounter with Sofi, his tragic love interest is mysterious, as are his attempts to locate her. He follows strange visions, symbols and numbers, as well as his incredible and obsessive memory of her eyes. This almost mystical journey and eventual romance is lovely to watch, although at times it can seem a little silly, especially to the more rationale part of the audience. Of course, that’s the point. This journey contrasts wonderfully with the journey that is taking place in the lab, between Ian and his lab partner Karen, as they seek to destroy the beliefs, that are ironically held most strongly by Ian’s lover. This makes for a fantastic subconscious understanding of the films main topic.
The romance itself is fantastic, and in the human moments, free of the strange happenings, it’s charming and almost seems completely real. The same can be said about the dynamics between the other characters, especially Marling and Pitt, as they seek scientific discovery. They all have great chemistry, and it all seems very natural. This is great, because it means that once the real drama begins about half way through the film, it becomes all the more engrossing. I won’t deny, that starting with a great tragedy, events begin to get more and more over the top or unbelievable perhaps. Too many plot points that are too coincidental, or too ‘easy.’ This is partially true, but again, I argue that this pretty much matches the films point. Either way, because the characters are so real, we are at least able to ground ourselves in them, and this helped a lot.
The films latter third deals directly with the unknown attacking our hero’s firm belief in scientific fact as the be all, and end all, in this world. Situations present themselves and characters present opinions, which make Dr Gray, and us, question what we believe. The film doesn’t seem to be attempting to make anyone believe in god, or the human soul. But through it’s creative connection between the uniqueness of the human eye, and the human soul, it seems to just want us to ask ourselves how sure we are? It also seems to ask Dr. Gray if he really wants to believe a little. Especially after experiencing great tragedy. In the films concluding scenes we are faced with such questions, and Cahill does an absolutely brilliant job capping off the engrossing sense of wonder that he created throughout. That’s one thing I can’t deny, no matter what I thought throughout, the film was just too engrossing and absorbing somehow to ignore.
The mixed critical reception that I Origins has received is the be expected. It is a polarizing topic, and is presented in such a way that many will find a little over the top. However, having seen it (without reading reviews prior), I can say that for me, it was an engrossing and wonderful movie that had me on the edge of my seat, even when I knew I should be saying “Oh, come on now…” That is what I would define as great film making, and a set of wonderfully acted characters keeping the film from floating away. It isn’t perfect, but I sure enjoyed it.