Friday, July 25, 2014

Mike Cahill Returns With the Scientifically Mystical I Origins

I Origins: Poster Eye Mandala | A Constantly Racing Mind
Some things cannot be proved by science -- yet. That theme is one of the many story elements that director Mike Cahill ("After Earth”) wants us to take away from his new film titled "I Origins."  Both writer and director, Cahill depicts a world where science and spirituality come together to tell a love story that transcends death and challenges how we see the world.  Michael Pitt ("Seven Psychopaths") is Dr. Ian Gray. He is a microbiologist whose research focuses on the eye.  Brett Marling ("After Earth,” "The Sound of My Voice," "The East") plays Ian's lab assistant Karen.  Astrid Bergès-Frisbey ("Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides") stars as Sofi, Ian's cosmic soul mate. Finally, the "Walking Dead's" Steven Yeun co-stars as Kenny, Ian's roommate and research partner. "I Origins" runs just under 2 hours and contains swearing and some nudity. The MPAA gives this film an R rating.

Ian tells the first half of the film in retrospect. He is a husband, a father, and a scientist. Eight years prior, when Ian was a PhD graduate, he met a wild and exotic young woman at a Halloween party.  While the encounter was brief, the impression she left on him was lasting.  Ian didn't get the girl's name or number, and he doesn't know what she looks like because she was wearing a mask. He did get pictures of her eyes for his collection.  Apparently, he collects pictures of people's eyes. Part of the research he and Kenny does is with optical biometrics and the cataloging of the uniqueness of each person's eye pattern.  Eye color doesn't matter.  

After the encounter, Ian experiences an emptiness that he didn't realize he had, that is, until this magical woman momentarily filled, and then suddenly departed without a word. Kenny, still drunk from the party, notes that the logical scientist was waxing poetic. The next day, Ian meets his new rotating intern, Karen.  His first reaction to Karen is one of mild indifference with a slight bit of hope that she has the intellect to help him in his research.  His goal is to find a naturally evolved creature that presently is blind, but has a genetic compound that will allow a mutation that gives the creature the ability to sense light. He wants to build an eye from scratch.  Why would he do this?  Karen tackles the project with her full attention while Ian finds himself obsessed with finding that girl again.

I Origins:Sofi's Soul Searching Eyes | A Constantly Racing Mind

Cahill spends time throughout the film balancing self-determinism and fate, cause and effect, the science of biology and the inexplicitness of love.  Obsessed with finding the girl, he studies pictures of the eyes that captivated him.  One day while buying lottery tickets, he has an epiphany.   On his ticket are the numbers 1111, in the drawing, on the timestamp, and he looks up and the light and shadows of the building across from him draws him to a bus stop. Upon taking a short bus trip, where something cosmic tells him to exit the vehicle and points him to a billboard with the mysterious girl's eyes.  The billboard stands as a symbol in this film as the eyes of T.J. Eckleburg did in "The Great Gatsby."  Here, the ethereal eyes are a metaphor for the the young woman's soul searching for Ian's 

Eventually he does find her again, and they begin a relationship that could only be described as unscientifically magical.  Her name is Sofi and she is of Argentinean/French descent.  She is a free spirit with a childlike quality of taking in the world with wonder and a sense of magic.  She is careless, irresponsible, spontaneous, believes in the soul and individuality, while Ian rejects them all in favor of science and reason.   Ultimately, the two are complete opposites and, of course, the two are doomed.  In scenes with Sofi, the white peacock is the Bird of Two Instances, and plays a major role symbolically for her.  

Karen, on the other hand, is smart, focused, and attractive.  She continues working on the research project full time and finally comes upon a worm that has the genetic make-up that they need for their progressive experiments.  Like the lab rats that Ian and Karen use for experiments, Karen confines herself to the laboratory and the goal of making a major scientific breakthrough.  Marling plays the role of Karen with a sense of grace that mirrors her own life -- that of a focused young woman wanting to send a cinematic message with her films. 

I Origins:Brit Marling - Michael Pitt, ad Steven Yeun | A Constantly Racing MindAs Ian and Sofi's love grow, the two have conversations that show that the two have very different worldviews.  When Ian discusses his research of the eye and how he plans to disprove God by discrediting the Intelligent Design community.  Sofi asks, "Why do you try so hard to disprove God?" Ian's reply, "Who proved that God is there in the first place."  Another beautiful scene is of the two lovers discussing their life's philosophies concerning death.  Sofi pronounces that when she dies, she wants to be cremated. She wants her soul to scatter to the wind and be free like a white peacock.  Ian would rather be buried in the hopes that science will find a way to either reanimate his corpse or reconstitute him from his DNA. Sofi tells Ian, "You live in a room with books, a bed, your logic, but there is a door and there is something more on the other side." "Like my dirty laundry?" Ian laughs.  "No. you just cannot let go.  You have a hard time letting go." the scene is emblematic of another theme that Cahill promotes, and that is of both the scientific and religious communities needing to let go of their dogmatic stances and be open to a new light.
"...human beings are like these worms. Maybe God is all around us but we don’t have the proper sense with which to see Him."
Cause and effect play an important role in the arc of this story, and the price that each of the characters pays for their experiences is essential to their growth.  On the day of Karen and Ian's greatest achievement, is also the day of Ian's greatest tragedy.  The sorrow over the loss of Sofi transcends the trope known as "fridging."  We feel just as keenly as Ian does when she dies.  But this too leads our protagonist on a path he wouldn't have naturally taken.  Seven years later, both Ian and Karen, now full professors and are happily married to each other, they reflect on the Karen's decision to call Ian into the lab the day Ian and Sofi were planning to have a spontaneous wedding.   The events of this particular day are a turning point in the film, where the tone changes from glad to sadness but only for a while. 

While Ian goes through all the stages of loss and eventually finds solace in Karen's arms. The audience as a third party, like Kenny who is now working in the private sector, sees Ian's relationship with Sofi as impractical, but with Karen as the "logical" choice.  Memories of Sofi lay dormant with Ian and Karen knows it, but doesn't care, Sofi is dead, and she is there and Sofi isn't.  The couple's joy expands after Tobias is born.  In the hospital, although not a legal requirement -- yet, the nurse photographs the child's eyes. And despite the parents informing the nurse that they understand the science behind the uniqueness of the eye and that they have used the system and that it will generate a unique 12-digit code, like a social security number for the child, she continues to explain.  After the picture is taken, and the eye scanned, the computer glitches and an African -- American male in his 60s appears on the screen.  The man's name is Paul Edgar Dairy.  The nurse apologizes, reboots the computer, and creates a fresh entry for the couple's new son.  

I Origins:Michael Pitt - Astrid Bergès-Frisbey | A Constantly Racing MindMonths later, they have an encounter with Dr. Jane Simmons (Cara Seymour), a Yale researcher claiming to want to check Tobias for Autism.  Once again, Ian's life is set on a new course after realizing that Dr. Simmons was actually searching for something as important as Autism but potentially more meaningful to the human race -- the transmigration of the soul. First, there is a trip to Idaho to discover the truth behind Simmons' research, and then Ian undertakes a journey to India encouraged by his logical, loving, wife.  What he finds there are old emotions that as a scientist he finds hard to return to.  A part of his life that wasn't anchored in normalcy, but unhinged by spontaneity and superstation, one where there was no closure. 

In India Ian meets a woman who prepares him for the self-discovery that he needs to complete his journey. William Mapother from Cahill's "Another Earth," makes a brief appearance, serving as a literal symbol of faith.  In a conversation with Priya (Archie Panjabi), a community service worker. They discuss Ian's scientific ideology, and how it fits into his trip to India. Ian expresses that he is looking at data points and it is the data points that prove his reality and why believing in an unseen, an unheard God is ridiculous.  Priya asks him what if religion could prove something that science could not.  Ian replies that is nonsense to consider.  However, Priya replies with this wonderful saying from the 14th Dalai Lama; 
“If scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims.”  
Michael Pitt’s characterization of Ian is correct for a dogmatic scientist caught unaware in Sofi’s magical charms.  Astrid Bergès-Frisbey’s captures Sofi perfectly.  With her lithe body, long brown hair, and soul catching eyes, there is little wonder why Ian is captivated by this woman-child.  The question be
comes how long could Ian put up with Sofi’s qualities before they become a liability to their relationship.

Markus Förderer's photography is well done, especially when photographing the film's main symbol, the eye. The image of the eyes that Förderer films, turns magically into a mystical mandalas that one can view both the entire universe but deep into the soul as well.  Technically, Förderer's does a great job, especially in Ian's bus ride and billboard epiphany scene. While Cahill directs with a style that is sometimes Malick and sometimes Hitchcock and sometimes something else altogether.  "Fall on Your Sword" founder Will Bates' ("Another Earth"), and Phil Mossman's ("We Are What We Are") ambient compositions are both compelling, and energetic. Also included are Radiohead's "Motion Picture Soundtrack," The Dø's "Dust It Off," and a few others that work together to set the proper moods for Ian, Sofi and Karen's journey.

"I Origins" is an impressive story, beautifully filmed and does what the director and the actors intended – to depict a love story with smartly written characters with a foundation in science but with an aura of spirituality.  Wordplay and symbolism are an important aspect of the narrative, and sometimes you can't help but feel overwhelmed. The final act is the most important, as all the themes and allusions come to a nexus in a young girl by the name of Salomina (Kashish).  The young lady is amazing and fulfils the cinematic and narrative promise Cahill makes in the first act of this film.  However, the conclusion of "I Origins", as they do in Mike Cahill films, leaves the viewer with the impression that they may have missed something.  The ending is subtle and allows for the viewer to make up their own mind about what just took place.  The viewer isn't left empty but fulfilled in that they just witnessed something marvelous but was there all along.  Go see "I Origins" when it comes to your area.

Fox Searchlight is opening "I Origins" in a few major cities across the nation. Take a moment and check the Limited Release schedule.  The film opens in these cities on July 18, 2014. More release dates and locations are in the works.


Movie Data

Genre: Drama, Sci-Fi
Year:  2014
Staring: Michael Pitt, Steven Yeun, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Brit Marling 
Director: Mike Cahill
Producer(s): Mike Cahill, Hunter Gray, Hunter Gray
Writer: Mike Cahill
Rating: R
Running Time: 113 minutes
Release Date: 7/18/2014

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