REVIEW: I Origins [2014]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: R | Runtime: 107 minutes | Release Date: July 18th, 2014 (USA)
Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Director(s): Mike Cahill
Writer(s): Mike Cahill

“You’re not going to regret this in the morning are you?”

Faith is a powerful, impossible thing. By definition it’s something we cannot know with certainty. However, just as those of scientific minds demean believers of God for taking the easy road towards fairy tale, one could say similar sentiments about them for refusing to accept that which they haven’t seen for themselves. After all, isn’t it harder to allow yourself to know without knowing? To hold something in your heart that you have no basis for other than a gut feeling? We—and I include myself here—are quick to laugh at the religious-minded and pick apart every little detail of scripture as false thanks to scientific discovery proving it inaccurate that we forget proof of God may still exist outside the Bible or Koran. Who knows, maybe science is actually bringing us closer to that discovery.

Writer/director Mike Cahill‘s I Origins can be seen as a sort of litmus test for where you may stand on the subject via your reaction to skeptical conduit Ian Grey’s (Michael Pitt) experiences. Split into two halves, the first shows the staunchly held position of a scientist dismissing religion on principle and all those who don’t as children while the second posits the presence of phenomena unexplainable by anything but divinity. We watch Ian willfully play God—a creator questioning what’s come before him and experimenting to get at the heart of existence, evolution, and life itself (the perfectly tuned aftermath of a random explosion of atoms) until finding himself peering into the abyss of death and humanity’s helplessness to combat it. Love—or more precisely its loss—however, can shake even the most stubborn mind.

Even when it does—when that non-physical bond called love nags at us and begs for us to hold onto the tiniest shred of hope we may have of one day meeting him or her again in this life or the next—it’s still easy to laugh off. I’m sure a lot of viewers walked out of this film giggling to themselves about how stupid the whole thing was and how naïve someone would have to be to believe a statistical impossibility was anything more than coincidence or at worst a grief-filled mind grasping at straws. But isn’t that what religion is? Seeing something that isn’t there simply because you wish it was? Those viewers may be right to possess this attitude, but it says everything about them and nothing about the film itself.

I share this with complete confidence because I too found myself picking apart details and dismissing many as contrivance. How can you not when faced with something so fantastical as reincarnation or the soul? Such subjects beg you to look everywhere you can for evidence to disprove them, making it easy to forget there’s another side to the coin. Wouldn’t it be more fruitful to seek out answers proving they are real instead? Just because evolution and the Big Bang is deemed fact doesn’t mean God isn’t watching, steering, and removing the training wheels to see if we travel straight or fall to the ground. Maybe the closer we get to uncovering the truth that humanity isn’t some special creature molded from clay, the closer we are to revealing something more. Either way, God’s existence is a scary proposition.

Cahill paints Ian and his peers Kenny (Steven Yeun) and Karen (Brit Marling) as unfettered and unwavering evolutionists who refuse to fathom their line of thinking can coexist with creationism. This is the trouble our world faces as both sides are so entrenched with proving they’re correct that neither is able to give an inch. In fact, the only character willing to question her beliefs and keep an open mind is the spiritualist Sofi (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey). She’s a free-spirit product of speculated tragedy that has held onto faith and God as a reason to keep going, to love, and to find happiness in the unknown. She and Ian both see an unyielding bond the moment they meet—she an immortal connection steeped in déjà vu, he the chemical connection of attraction and lust.

They are horrible for each other, though, so completely opposite that we know they can never truly work. Because while Sofi tries to talk through her beliefs—not as concrete notions he’s stupid to dismiss but as questions demanding equal attention with science to at least be in the realm of possibility—he really thinks less of her for giving credence to any of religion’s mumbo jumbo. But even when she’s gone he cannot fully break the connection despite knowing with complete certainty it’s over. Something keeps her around him whether smell, memory, or longing. Love becomes stronger than science to him, something he must consciously keep in check or risk being lost and driven towards oblivion. Love: an intangible concept similar to faith and yet its universality makes it so much easier to accept.

I’ve rambled without really touching on the plot itself, but that was intentional. In the end, I Origins is less about the characters than the audience’s willingness to accept their journey. It’s about the feeling you get while Radiohead‘s “Motion Picture Soundtrack” plays above the film’s slomotion finale. Is it cold from the machinations plotted or warm from acknowledging spiritual immortality? Centered on the irrefutable claim supposing that each of our eyes’ iris biometrics is unique, Cahill portrays his science fiction construct as a way to provide evidence for evolution and the soul both. Are there contrivances amidst the beautifully shot and impeccably composed juxtapositions of imagery and sound (or lack thereof)? Yes, but there’s just as many in life. I’m all about the science, but my feeling at the end shows I believe in something more too.

It’s this capacity to spark a conversation inside myself that secures Cahill’s work as a success. He finds a way to authentically force a man as against religion as possible to question everything he knows about the world because hope found a way to prevail against fact. I won’t deny the dialogue doesn’t seem overly manufactured and clinical in its specificity at times to elicit the responses necessary for each character to progress through his/her personal trajectories (and serve as catalysts for the others’ emotional growth), but its mission never wavers from ensuring we’re aware of Ian’s evolving ability to see what his heart wants above his brain. There are some powerfully poignant moments throughout that make you question your own ideologies, wondering how you’d react in similar situations. Anything is possible with a little love.

[1] Brit Marling as “Karen,” Michael Pitt as “Dr. Ian Grey” and Steven Yeun as “Kenny” in I ORIGINS.
[2] Astrid Bergès-Frisbey as “Sofi” in I ORIGINS.
[3] Archie Panjabi as “Priya” in I ORIGINS.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.