Pitting science against reality, meet soon-to-be-Dr Ian Gray (Michael Pitt), an all too handsome graduate scientist who is obsessed with the human eye. He is working to prove the organism evolved, and in his spare time he like to photograph them. Close up. And in all the colour and detail you could imagine with the camera he carries everywhere. One night at a messy Halloween party he meets the (also ridiculously beautiful) Sofi. Entranced but left without a name, (or a face thanks to her costume) Gray has only a photo of “the most beautiful eyes” he’s ever seen.
Snap forward and through an unlikely and extremely lucky turn of events Ian runs into Sofi again and the two instantly fall for one another. More contrasting characters would be hard to find; Ian is the down to earth, give-me-the-facts kind of nerd who manages to pull off a pinstripe suit while Sofi (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) is European, she believes in all that we can feel but cannot see. She’s the type of girl who would go to work without brushing her hair but still have all the men swooning.
All too soon the couple’s romantic dreams are broken when tragedy strikes (no more will be said, as some spoilers should stay unspoiled for those who might want to see the whole film). Heartbroken, Ian is taken in by Karen (Brit Marling), his lab assistant. Seven years later, Karen’s pregnant and Dr Gray’s on national TV talking about how together they managed to document the evolution of the eye. Through a bizarre series of events, and the evolution of retina scanning technology, Ian makes the rash decision to journey to India in search of a child with the exact same eyes as Sofi. He is determined to find out if there is a connection between them, and ultimately if there is some higher being or force that controls us and binds us to one another. What could be an engaging and imaginative idea seems to amble along from one narrative point to the next in a style that is misguided and directionless. Too many steps in the narrative hinge on one another. Much too overly ambitious, the film tries to cram too much in and in doing so loses momentum. This appears to be a common problem with sci-fi films; either overly complex, or far too simple, one loses interest.
I, Origins is overly ambitious, and doesn’t quite succeed in creating or building the tension that is central to the relationship issues buried at the core of the narrative. The foundation work for Ian and Karen’s tentative relationship is irritatingly obvious, and the jumps in time are frustratingly disruptive to the moments of intimacy Cahill has created between the actors and the camera. Pitt (Gray) does an excellent job as the scientist lost at sea, desperately searching for some kind of life line, Marling (Karen) as the grounded, reasoned beauty and Bergès-Frisbey (Sofi) as the wayward and carefree spirit.
It may be hard to stick with the narrative, but there is a plus side; shot on Red and filmed largely in close-ups, the film is quite lovely to look at. An ambient soundtrack from Will Bates and Phil Mossman adds a nice layer to the film. And the soft-rock tracks from Radiohead and The Do amp up the indie vibe. The muted colour palette and serenely framed shots leave the whole thing looking and sounding quite…fashionable…
The film alludes to some intriguing age-old oppositions; religion against science, and fate against logic. How it positions us to feel about each opposition I am not entirely sure. It is left largely to the viewer to decide if the whirlwind, passionate romance is more desirable than the enduring relationship built on logic and reason. Maybe that’s its biggest problem; it gives us so much to think about and take in, but it never tells us how to feel…
I, Origins offers an interesting concept, but unfortunately it doesn’t deliver. There is just too much going on. In this sci-fi drama from writer/director/editor Mark Cahill the plot stumbles from one act to another, it’s more like a five-step (self-help) process then a three-act narrative.
I Origins screened at MIFF and will show exclusively at Cinema Nova in Carlton from September 11.