The second feature from director Mike Cahill, I Origins continues in the same vein of science-fiction mixed with strands of romance and drama as its predecessor, Another Earth (2011). And, despite the obvious similarities between the two (in their shared concerns with scientific exploration and notions of fate, amongst other things), I Origins stands alone in its ambitiously intriguing premise.
The film follows Dr Ian Gray (Michael Pitt), a molecular biologist engaged in mapping the evolution of the human eye, as a brief encounter with an exotic stranger named Sofi (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) changes the course of his life by confronting his scientific beliefs with spirituality. And, after a sudden end to their relationship, his research results in an astounding discovery that not only has serious ramifications for evolutionary theory, but forces him to reevaluate his position within the science-spirituality debate.
The film struggles slightly under the weight of its narrative; as science, pseudo-science, and (very watered down) Buddhist beliefs clash together to create an oddly paced parcel. While these elements are introduced in a relatively cohesive manner, as the film progresses it becomes increasingly aimless in its trajectory and sloppy in its development. The mammoth size of the narrative’s potential effectively causes a deepening rift between the scientific and the spiritual, with the film constantly oscillating between the two without allowing itself adequate time to deepen any of its statements across the board. This becomes increasingly problematic within its progression, as any chances there are for the narrative to take a steady stance in its own argument are uprooted too quickly to allow any real standpoint.
While this constant challenging of its protagonist’s beliefs works for the first half, where I Origins begins to veer off course (if the main point of the film was ever to discuss where/what the human eye evolved from, that is) is during a complete narrative turnaround which sees a complete re-shuffling of romantic interests and motivations. This shift allows the film to stray from its original concern with scientific discovery towards an exploration of the effect of losing a loved one can have on a person’s mindset. In abandoning its initial premise the film derails itself in favour of focusing on a newfound sense of spirituality; meaning a transition from scientific exploration towards an investigation into the legitimacy of reincarnation as truth, which does little but leave a resounding feeling of confusion over the film’s extremely vague conclusion.
The characters also suffer as a result of these narrative flaws, with the lack of any real progression forcing them into two-dimensional representations of the stereotypical roles associated with ‘indie’ films by causing a similar lack of character development other than the protagonist’s switch of perspectives on the futility of man. If I Origins has any real message to be taken from its philosophical meandering, it could well be one that simply says the divides between notions of the “logical” and “illogical” aren’t so much distinct borders as they are hazy edges.