I Origins is an impressive dance on the line between science and religion. Rather than favor one side over the other, writer/director Mike Cahill (Another Earth) uses both as ingredients in a journey for trying to learn more about life and what makes us tick. It’s a story that attempts to explore the mysteries of life and bask in its wonder rather than provide a direct answer. That’s a tall order for a film that wants to balance real world research with spiritual belief. Whether it truly achieves a cohesiveness is debatable, but the journey it takes was certainly a mesmerizing one.
Graduate student Ian Gray (Michael Pitt) is trying to find and map a key component of human evolution: the eye. Having been absorbed in the subject for some time, he has grown obsessed with eyes to the point where he constantly wants to take pictures of this organ. At a Halloween party one night, he discovers his future wife Sofi upon asking for a picture of her eyes. Though losing track of her at first, he uses his skillful eyes and detective skills to seek her out. They’re soon reunited and hit it off so well they decide to get married at the spur of the moment. They have an opposites attract vibe as Sofi is more spiritual while Ian is more focused on debunking creationism. Meanwhile, at the lab, his research with his assistant Karen has turned up a hot lead in the form of worms. On the same day that Ian and Karen make the breakthrough discovery of growing eyes on blind worms, Ian also loses Sofi in a tragic elevator accident.
Years later Ian has become successful in the field of science, written a book on why creationists are wrong, married Karen and has a new child. But Ian starts noticing peculiar things in his child. When first attempting an iris scan upon birth, the boy’s DNA initially turns up as that of an older black man, but is corrected upon a reset of the computer system. When later testing for autism, the baby seems to respond to a certain picture of an elderly black woman. Some more digging for this particular woman and deeper scanning of an iris database puts Ian on a peculiar quest to India. His ultimate question is if reincarnation can be discovered through evolution.
From that last sentence, one might gather that the whole premise of the film is that a scientist comes to believe in religion. Unlike a lot of films on this subject matter, I Origins doesn’t pander or kowtow to either side. It instead entertains the idea that there is much more of our world yet to explore in terms of our biology and our consciousness. We may not receive all the answers right away, but there are plenty of interesting clues to form many theories and ideas from. We’ll stew and suffer trying to comprehend and find something concrete to give us comfort. It’s part of what makes humanity so brilliant and wondrous for all its highs and lows on the road to discovery.
Though the characters don’t quite reflect that passion, the cinematography of I Origins perfectly captures the beauty of life’s many mysteries. We get to see the world through Ian’s vision as a man obsessed with discovering patterns and ideas. He begins to see the number eleven turn up in his everyday sight as the wheels in his head turn. He looks up at a billboard with two bold eyes staring down at him as he takes in the enormity of life. Even the simpler moments as when Ian is at home making out with Sofi or deep in the lab trenches with Karen hold a certain quiet beauty.
I Origins may seem a tad too free with its “maybes” and “ifs” for such a subject most people hold dear, but its an admirable effort at daring to present a world of science and faith. It never fully portrays either the scientist or the believer as the righteous or the wrong. The biggest questions in the universe which have yet to be answered remain a beautiful enigma. And while I can easily see why many would despise this film for not directly choosing a dog in this fight, it’s a refreshing bit of ambient drama which suggests that maybe both science and faith play a key role. Ian suggests that he may have known Sofi for longer than the two of them have been alive based on their atoms having collided for many years. In his many deep conversations with Sofi, that’s one exchange that seems to suggest there is much more to life than cold facts or chilling dogma. Life is beautiful and I Origins lets us bathe in all its glory as we dig deeper for ourselves.
You rated this film: 3
Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Classification is to be confirmed by the British Board of Film Classification
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