Review: I Origins (Fantasia Film Festival)
PLOT: Two molecular biologists (Michael Pitt & Brit Marling) studying the biology of the human eye, make a stunning discovery that challenges their unshakable belief that everything is explicable by science.
REVIEW: The notion of science vs faith is one of the all-time most polarizing debates, and one that stirs up strong emotions on either side. Unshakable belief in science or absolute faith in spirituality; are these beliefs mutually exclusive? I ORIGINS is a film that certainly doesn’t try to answer that question or really take a stand on either side of the debate, but it is a film that encourages people of both sides of the fence to keep an open mind, as just when we think we know everything, something inexplicable that throws our belief systems in disarray could be just around the corner.
Like director Mike Cahill’s previous film, ANOTHER EARTH, I ORIGINS is a film of ideas. Whether or not everything is explained is beside the point. He uses his films to ask questions and has enough faith in his audience that he leaves the resolution up to interpretation. For some that may be maddening, but as director Terry Gilliam once said in an interview, “I’d rather leave a film with questions rather than answers.”
It’s that idea that makes I ORIGINS a truly cerebral piece of sci-fi, and one that should hopefully be embraced by open-minded audiences. However, don’t assume I ORIGINS is only concerned with science or theological psychobabble. At its heart, I ORIGINS is a two-pronged love story. BOARDWALK EMPIRE’s Michael Pitt has his strongest (and most sympathetic) role to date as the lead, scientist Ian Gray. The film kicks off at a costume party where he has a drunken fling with an elusive French beauty (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), kicking off an affair that seems somehow preordained by fate. Sounds somewhat typical, right?
Here’s where I ORIGINS gets really interesting. A lot has been written about how tiresome the idea of a “manic pixie dream girl” is. I ORIGINS is the one film to take an honest look at what it would actually be like to end up in a long-term relationship with someone like that. Precocious is fun, for a while, but its clear early-on that Gray is blind to his research assistant, played by Brit Marling, who’s obviously a far better match for him than his dream girl ever could be. It’s the relationships Pitt’s character has with both of them that are the ultimate focus of the film. The relationships are both well thought-out and convincing, although one might be a little jealous of Pitt being torn between two such incredibly beautiful women. Then again, Pitt himself looks like a model, which is maybe Cahill’s only true Hollywood conceit, in that the cast is uncommonly gorgeous, giving this a kind of fable-like quality.
But what about the “MacGuffin” which makes Pitt and Marling question their belief system? This is tricky to write about in a review as the way it unfolds is so compelling that to reveal it would be doing a huge disservice to the reader, so you’ll have to take it on faith that the idea is intriguing regardless of which side of the debate you fall on. Suffice to say, the acting is uniformly excellent, and while Cahill’s ANOTHER EARTH got a lot of mileage out of its low budget, especially as far as the visuals went, I ORIGINS is even more stunning to look at. Cahill’s used his larger budget wisely, with gorgeous photography by Markus Forderer, and terrific location shooting in India, which gives this an epic scope that makes it feel like a really substantial piece of work. The music by Will Bates is also striking, and it can’t be denied that as far as its technical merits go, Cahill never hits a wrong note.
Still, I ORIGINS may not be to everyone’s tastes. Like ANOTHER EARTH, you really need to go in with an open mind. If you’re expecting anything that’s the least be conventional, this isn’t for you. But, if you’re looking for something that’s a little more 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY than TRANSFORMERS, this is really worth a look – and well worth seeing theatrically.