I Origins (2014) Review
Discussing Science vs Spirtuality in I Origins (2014)
Writer/Director: Mike Cahill
Stars: Michael Pitt (Ian), Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey (Sofi), Brit Marling (Karen), Archie Panjabi (Pryia)
Warning: The following review contains spoilers for I Origins
I Origins is an interesting film to discuss for a multitude of reasons. But none of these pertain to the filmmaking aspects. That isn’t to say that there isn’t some interesting on-screen moments, such as the build-up and execution of the elevator scene, but that the clear focus is within the story and the character development of Ian (Michael Pitt). As this story progresses the audience is taken through three distinct acts:
• The romance of Ian and Sofi
• The birth of Ian and Karen’s child
• The hunt for the Indian eyes
The first of these acts is perhaps where most viewers will have the most complaints as it is the most unoriginal, with Ian falling for the stereotypical Sofi (Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey). Nothing new or interesting is explored here, and for quite a reasonable length of time too. However, this is part of the reason why her death scene is so effective and was absolutely required for the rest of the film’s ideas to come to fruition. This is because the conversations between the two evolve into the over-arching theme of I Origins: science versus spirituality. Discussed more within the final act, this theme sees Ian struggle with the possibility of allowing any spirituality into his life, instead placing all his energy into fact. He comes to resent Sofi’s ‘childness’, as he sees it, while she is frustrated at his lack of open-mindness to the issue.
After the 7 year jump forward in time the tone shifts dramatically. Starting from a more comfortable position in life, Ian and Karen (Brit Marling) quickly become wrapped up in the confusing situation surrounding their new-born child and decide to investigate, creating a light thriller-esque vibe as they look for their answers. Plot-wise this is the most compelling act, but is executed weakly and is over rather quickly. The discoveries being made are exciting, but this feeling quickly levels out. This could be for the best though, as the theming here is not as immediately apparent. Instead the focus is on the conflict and change that faces Pitt’s character. Previously he had been at the lowest point in his life, and now we see him go from having achieved fame for his work to having past issues suddenly come back to haunt him. This time he tackles the issues with a more mature approach. Although the reminders from the waitress’ perfume do show that he will never truly be the same person, he does realise that he could put to rest these issues by dealing with them head on and travels to India.
Not long after arriving, Ian meets Pryia (Archie Panjabi). She helps to bring the focus back towards I Origin’s main theme and helps Ian begin to see how science does not have to disprove spirituality. Instead she explains how they can work together in harmony, although her use of the Dali Lama in this discussion is the type of faux deep that barely scratches the surface of the matter at hand and uses a popular known fact as if it is revelationary new information. After this we see Ian go on the most major personal development that we see within the film as he attempts the seemingly impossible search for one orphaned girl in a hugely over-populated area. If he thought about the matter rationally he would soon pack up his bags and head home. Instead he invests himself in the sense of both finance and time as he blindly hopes that he will receive good fortune. This is very different to the man we see at the beginning of the film, who had originally dismissed Karen’s idea to test thousands of different animals in the hope of finding a possible origin point for their research. And just as Karen’s persistence paid off, so does his as he finds the girl he was looking for. Admittedly the scene does feel slightly rushed and ham-fisted as he is on the phone trying to explain to his wife his reasons for staying when he does find her, which could have been handled in a less clichéd manner had there been more runtime allowed to show the passing of time that has occurred during his trip.
Ian takes the girl back to his hotel room to conduct an experiment on her, which at first goes well. He becomes excited that there could be factual proof of some sort of reincarnation of Sofia. But it eventually becomes apparent that the results are only slightly more accurate than if the test was taken randomly. Disappointed in his foolish self he starts to walk the girl out of the hotel, but upon deciding to take the elevator instead of the stairs this time she cries out and hugs Ian. This is where he truly realises that, despite what the scientific research suggests, he can feel the spiritual connection and know that his idea was right. Truly proving that he has changed his view on the world.
As you may be able to tell from the way I have written this review I feel as though the written storytelling in I Origins is highly commendable, flowing nicely from beat to beat. Its snaking path keeps the first watch compelling, although perhaps reduces the film’s rewatchability factor. The way in which this story is translated on-screen is much less of a talking point. Visually it is, for the most part, bland and un-interesting with performances that are good, but never extended beyond that. Mike Cahill seems to have still achieved in presenting has main ideas despite these factors though and manages to leave the audience with an interesting discussion after the credits roll. Well, at least after the frankly bizarre and comic-book style after credits scene. Maybe eventually we will see what this is all the backstory for in the sequel I.