I, Origins

2014-10-03 15:01

What it's about:

A molecular biologist, who believes in nothing but science, uncovers something in his studies of the human eye that promises to challenge everything he holds to be true about the universe, a bridge between physical and spiritual worlds.

What we thought

Writer/ director Mike Cahill's debut film, Another Earth, was a low-budget, indie science fiction movie that used its well-worn scifi premise of a parallel Earth to explore the twin ideas of redemption and forgiveness – and he achieves, or at least tries to achieve, a similar trick with this, his sophomore effort, the puntastically titled, I, Origins. 

Whatever else you might say about I, Origins, you can't deny its ambitions and you certainly can't deny that Cahill's hyper-intelligent, symbol-heavy science fiction films are a refreshing change from the bombastic scifi flicks that the big studios come up with – and that's even if you happen to really enjoy things like Guardians of the Galaxy or The Edge of Tomorrow. I, Origins plays out like your average independent relationship-drama but with the crucial added twist of heady science fiction thrown in.

The subject of I, Origins - far more than its sometimes grating characters – is its exploration of not just the relationship between science and spirituality but about what would happen if spirituality could be proven through science. It's a fairly interesting idea that is explored rigorously, if not entirely satisfactorily, throughout the film, but I, Origins unfortunately never quite matches the clear allegory of Another Earth, even if it does improve on its predecessor in dramatic accessibility.

The problem, I think, is that for all that people love comparing science and spirituality, the two subjects actually exist in two entirely different spheres: one based on the philosophy of empiricism, one based on pretty much anything but. It's less like comparing apples and oranges, more like comparing apples and love.

I, Origins unfortunately falls apart when it tries to bring spirituality into the same sphere as science in its quite misjudged final act. At first the ideas presented seem quite profound but unfortunately end up feeling quite hackneyed, even if it does course correct slightly by at least acknowledging that maybe, just maybe, empirical facts might not be the only way to understand existence – and that maybe trying to understand the one with the other is something of a fool's game.

Unfortunately, by then, it has already presumably pissed off atheists with its suggestions of creationism and reincarnation and bewildered “believers” with its shoehorning two disciplines together through fictitious devices that don't really exist in the real world – (potentially) ironic, I know.

Still, for all of its failings, I, Origins is still worth a look. It's decent enough dramatically as we see people with often warring personal ideologies trying to connect, even if the people themselves are slightly annoying in that typically indie kinda way, and even if their dialogue is a bit on the dry side. One certainly can't fault the performances, however, from its cast of “foreign” talent (Astrid Berges-Frisby) and indie darlings (Britt Marling, Michael Pitt), all turning in top notch work.

At its heart though, for all its dramatic virtues and failures, its really a film about big philosophical ideas. These big philosophical ideas might occasionally be naïve, wrong-headed, even silly but it's hard not to give at least a passing recommendation to a film that is so fearless in its willingness to tackle them. I'm still eagerly awaiting Mike Cahill's first truly great film but as long as he keeps on making these flawed but incredibly interesting slices of philosophical science fiction, it's hard to complain too much.

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