What if you were living your life entirely unaware that a whole other world existed in tandem with your own? It’s not The Matrix but it’s an equally heady concept and very thought provoking question like that which Mike Cahill (writer/director Another Earth) asks of the audience. Yet that’s just the beginning of the topics he questions and tires to answer while taking the audience along on his intellectual quest.
I Origins, to put it simply, is a sly sci-fi picture that is as fascinating as it is simplistic. Yet it is the multiple rabbit holes and subjects broached which makes the concept of the film so thought provoking. A guaranteed conversation starter it looks for answers all the while knowing full well how unattainable they are. Though it might seem futile to search it is in the process that we learn more about ourselves after expanding our ideas, and through exposure either cement our steadfast ideas, or yield to and accept a whole new set.
There are lots of highly effective and memorable sci-fi films that are so minimal yet convey grandiose ideas – Primer, Sound of My Voice, Coherence – but Cahill has learned a lot from his last film. I Origins succeeds in further bending audiences’s minds with his concept (actually he had the idea for this before he ever wrote After Earth). It’s as confident and complex but just scratches the surface of its themes presented in the independent feeling presentation. This isn’t polished bit of science fiction but Cahill heightens the quasi cheap feeling with some camera work that is just a bit more enticing than we saw in Another Earth and, as expected in typical indie fashion, quick cuts and handy cam style of shooting.
Per the norm, the camera just loves Brit Marling and while she takes a side seat to Michael Pitt and his removed but pensive delivery, the two play their roles very matter of fact and convey exposition without preaching to the audience. In fact the only real emotion comes from Astrid Bergès-Frisbey but the film is more about the science than the physicality. So if you enjoy a thinking man’s picture make sure you stick around after the credits for a further blast to your cerebellum. It takes the concepts and ideas presented and shows you they go far deeper than anything inferred or laid out in this picture.
Mike Cahill explores a lot and it really asks the audience to pay attention. There are some narrative dots that just don’t get connected and these narrative shifts but that’s the point. The mystery coupled with the intriguing concepts make this worth a few more views at the very least. Just when the story starts to flesh out one idea Cahill introduces more things to think about and it’s a mixture of science, religion, love, relationships and asks, challenges us is more like it, to constantly question things in which we might have once had steadfast belief…or at least to just consider the alternative. It just broaches the subject, without offering concrete facts and simply proposes, “what if?” but you have to be happy with not getting an answer. Key distinction there but then again that’s life, right?
A film bound to wow those hungry for a certain level of sophistication, I Origins deals with a complex plot in a seemingly casual manner. Even though Cahill never connects his dots (or the fact that his red herrings distract people from the story for an unreasonable amount of time) it’s unclear whether it was all intended or simply his inability to develop and execute a broad range of ideas. Regardless the ride is still thrilling despite branches that never come to fruition. On that note, some might claim the those, many, undeveloped ideas keep the story from being cohesive. It’s true but it doesn’t take away from the overall impact of the story or keep you from engaging in conversations about the great many ideas presented afterwards. Disjointed though it may be, feeling like three different movie or ideas for movie crammed into one narrative, it works more times than it doesn’t.
A subdued film, compared to something equally thought provoking as say Inception, Cahill’s film still succeeds in blowing viewer’s minds, or at the very least get some dormant brain cells kicking. Like a magic trick, the mystery and intrigue is heightened because we easily become invested in trying to figure it all out. Even more so because it deals with universal concepts and terms we’re not only familiar with but struggle with on a daily basis. We want to be told how it’s done but when and if that ever happens it’s likely we won’t lose interest in the overall effect. That in itself is another reason why Cahill is a fresh mind in Hollywood and one to watch. Not just for the story but what he’s able to bring out of everyone around him.