Relative film industry newcomer Mike Cahill has hit the proverbial jackpot with his new film I Origins. Written and directed by Cahill, I Origins is a tale that will render its audience utterly satiated by this lovely and muted masterpiece I Origins will also leave viewers engaged in dialogue long after they have left the movie theater.
I Origins delves into the duality of science and spirituality, or one might prefer science versus spirituality. It is an ugly duckling of a production that moves so chafingly slow for the first hour that one may get the feeling that they have wasted their hard-earned dollars on “one of those stupid indies,” but be advised to hang on. A swan will surely emerge out of this ugly ducking production and pied-piper viewers into a near-nail-biting journey of scientific and spiritual discovery via the eyes of Cahill’s worthy protagonist Ian, who is handily portrayed by Michael Pitt (Seven Psychopaths and Empire Boardwalk).
Ian is a scientist, husband and father who flashes back seven years. At this time Ian is young, spontaneous and unattached as is his scientist partner and pal Kenny (Steven Yeun). Ian flashes back to a Halloween soiree in New York City where he meets Sofi, portrayed by Astrid Berges-Frisbey (Pirates Of The Caribbean). Sofi is shrouded by a black mask and Ian can only see her eyes. Eyes mean a lot to Ian since he is in the throes of a scientific study about eyes and finding a scientific gateway to making color blind mice see.
A tad obsessive, Ian photographs the eyes of human subjects every chance he gets. He photographs Sofi’s eyes and not long after Ian and Sofi end up in a sexual intermingling which Sofi subsequently halts and flees from. Ian is left with the feeling that a genuine connection took place between them and seeks to find and identify her again via her eye-print. Like the finger print, each human being has eye markings that are uniquely their own and Cahill makes sure that the viewer becomes familiar with Sofi’s eye print.
Remembering Sofi’s eye print is a paramount detail of the film. Ian eventually finds Sofi again and this time the two remain together. They fall in love, move in together, and even run off to the courts to get married on a spontaneous whim.
It is at this point in the film where Cahill steers the viewer away from the love story and into a hauntingly, riveting tale of spirituality versus science. Sofi and Ian never marry. Their union is suddenly cut short and Ian instead ends up on a life path with his trusted lab assistant Karen (Brit Marling).
It is critical not to reveal the meat of this story and allow viewers to experience what ensues on their own. I Origins may put viewers in the mind of Clint Eastwood’s 2010 film Hereafter, which summons the question of what happens when we pass over.
Ian confidently and adamantly embraces himself as a consummate scientist. He unapologetically has no belief in God. Things are because they are. There is no after-life and that is a story he is sticking to. But events unfold that bring the essence of Sofi back into his life.
Seven years later Ian and Karen give birth to a baby boy named Tobias who may or may not be autistic. A research team beckons the couple into a lab to conduct an eye scan on Tobias. This turns out to be an advantage to Ian and Karen since they are familiar with the scan. Assisted by Karen and Kenny, Ian subsequently discovers that their son Tobias has an eye scan that is an exact match of another adult human being in their eye database. This discovery eventually leads Ian on a global trek to a spiritual destiny that will render audiences emotionally captivated.
This 113 minute film was skillfully written and pieced together by Cahill. An utter cinematic masterpiece. Cahill is deliberate in the pacing of this tale which leads its viewers from mediocrity to understated eloquence, with an ultimate finale that is capable of moving viewers to tears. There is no indication whatsoever at the start of this film that audiences will end up on such a soul-stirring journey.
Viewers may or may not see the last five minutes of this film coming. Those who do see it coming are not at all moved any less and this is due to Cahill’s expert penning and direction of this stirring finale. From the soundtrack, to the framing, to the alarming silence, and to a climax that ushers itself in with a mere, faint whisper, films don’t get much better than this.
Review By Janet Walters Levite