Dr. Donna Copeland’s
Mike Cahill, the writer/director of I Origins, is gifted in spinning stories about the nexus of science, religion, and supernatural phenomena, within plots that contain mystery and intrigue. His characters have depth, and ring true to life. I Origins is a bit like Another Earth, but an entirely different story in that the main characters are conducting research on the human eye, which promises scientific breakthroughs that could plausibly be in our real future. It also reminds me of Terrence Malick’s films (specifically, To the Wonder) in its aim to present thoughtful reflections on the nature of our existence and the intersection of science, art, and spirituality.
Michael Pitt plays Dr. Ian Gray, a young ophthalmologist, who encounters a mysterious woman at a Halloween costume party. She wears a black hood over her head so that only her lovely eyes show, and when he asks where she’s from, she says, “another planet.” He takes pictures of her eyes—which is typical for him—and is immediately attracted to her. It turns out she is Sofi (Astrid Borges-Frisbey), originally from Argentina and brought up by her grandmother. Just when they are getting things on, however, she abruptly disappears.
About the same time, he gets a new assistant in his lab, Karen (Brit Marling). He is rudely dismissive of her at first until he learns that she has a wealth of knowledge about the eye, and is doggedly persistent in pursuing a research question. They become good partners, and eventually get to the cusp of a major scientific discovery.
The film poses questions about the philosophy of life and connections between spiritual beliefs and science, played out within a context of high drama and romance. I Origins is well written and directed by Mike Cahill, with Michael Pitt, Brit Marling, Astrid Bertes-Frisbey, and Steven Yeun in starring roles. Pitt is convincing as a scientist completely caught up in his work. Marling plays a wonderful model of a woman easily balancing her scientific work with family nurturance and human understanding. Bertes-Frisbey is perfect as a woman of mystery with leanings toward a spiritual point of view that contrasts with that of her grounded-in-science love interest. Yeun plays the role of devil’s advocate in the group, and can be cleverly funny at the same time. Music by Will Bates and Phil Mossman and cinematography by Markus Forderer provide further artistic quality to a very fine film.
MICHAEL PITT BRIT MARLING ASTRID BERGES FRISBEY
I unfortunately missed Mike Cahill’s previous and first film Another Earth (which I will now immediately rush and view), but here he presents a film that deals ultimately with one man’s opposition to religion or spirituality from the view and background of science. I Origins is a perplexing story; it’s a film that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up more than once, and it made me nervous and unsettled. It’s a film that is methodical in nature, the unnerving is gradual and slips up on you before you realize what is happening. The script, written by Cahill, doesn’t borrow or reference anything I can seem to compare it to, leaving the audience gasping for the next plot twist.
26-year-old PhD student Ian (Pitt) meets the most exotic and interesting woman at a party, but her identity is concealed save her eyes. Ian is a scientist studying the evolution of the eye in mammals. Through a series of strange coincidences beginning with her eyes, Ian tracks down this mysterious woman named Sofi (Frisby), and their connection is so intense that it scares both of them. Ian and his lab partner Karen (Marling) continue to look for the origin of the eye in animals that cannot see, and it leads them to a discovery that changes everyone involved.
Michael Pitt (Dreamers, Silk) always looks like the face behind a modeling ad that explores more than just a telling face. His face and charisma as an actor is always fascinating regardless of the film he is in. This is one of Pitt’s best performances as he yearns with his eyes and evokes the kind of torment one would expect from a character in such turmoil over the concept of spirituality over science. The two most important scenes of the film occur with Ian’s character having a revelation: a dark conversation with Karen as they discuss repressed thoughts about their actions on that tragic day and their lack of closure and when an Indian woman proposes a question to Ian that shakes him to his core.
In Contact, one of my favorite films, author Carl Sagan explored an atheist unable to come to terms with faith being a deciding factor in decisions being made about science and space exploration until she herself becomes unable to explain her visit into space, only to ask a jury to have faith in her testimony. I Origins takes the same path with Ian who, unlike Jodie Foster’s character, is specifically out to prove that God doesn’t exist. His character, like Ellie Arroway, is faced with unexplainable circumstances that will challenge his scientific foundation and once again explore the concept that science, evolution, God, and spirituality are not mutually exclusive.
Final Thought – A beautiful and unsettling exploration of spirituality and science.
By: Dustin Chase