On the opening night of one of the UK’s most important film festivals, Raindance founder and director Elliot Grove introduced us to Mike Cahill’s quirky lo-fi sci-fi I Origins.
During the following Q&A with Cahill, he confessed to having written the screenplay in 2 weeks. We can only imagine what he could have done with a bit longer. The narrative was originally intended as the backstory to a grander concept about reincarnation, a film which Cahill still hopes to make at some point in the future.
Ian Gray (Michael Pitt) is on a mission to disprove Intelligent Designers’ theory that the human eye is too complex to have evolved and must therefore have been designed. He doesn’t talk or act much like a research scientist (imagine if Percy Bysshe Shelley somehow suddenly found himself in a lab staring at worms through a microscope) but he does have pouty lips and glasses: visual references to the two sides of his personality, like the two women in his life: Sofi (pouty lips played by Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) and Karen (glasses played by Brit Marling).
Ian is soon distracted from his work by the desirable and otherworldly Sofi, and their romance leads Ian to take her spirituality seriously. Meanwhile, Karen is left to get on with the science bit. Although the style of the piece has a refreshing, almost mumblecore level of informality, events start to feel a bit contrived and often unlikely. The second half of the film drags on as the narrative drops into lazy, predictable episodes and ends in a whimsical journey to India, as we await a conclusion we’d all already concluded about an hour before.
I already had my critic’s knives out from the moment early on when Ian declares he is going to “disprove” a theory which is so flimsy even Bible-belt Americans have banned it being taught in schools. By doing so, he falls into the unscientific Creationist’s trap. The schoolboy error of feeling the need to disprove something which has no evidence to support it. A bit like a scientist trying to disprove Jesus walked on water – you can’t and, anyway, what would be the point?
From this dubious starting point, Cahill attempts to perform his own miracle and turn sci-fi lead into something more golden. The acting is the best thing about the film, while the photography is moody but some way from inspiring. If you like your science fiction without spaceships, laser guns and expensive CGI set pieces (and also without science), then I Origins may be for you.
I Origins is in cinemas now.