I Origins: A Scientist’s Struggle with Reason
Director and Writer: Mike Cahill
For those of you that don’t know, “I Origins” is about Ian Gray (eventually Dr. Ian Gray) played by Michael Pitt, a biochemist who is fascinated with eyes. He studies the eyes of many species to find a definitive answer as to whether the complexity of the human eye can be attributed to evolution or something more spiritual. With the help of his lab partner Karen played wonderfully by Brit Marling, he conducts experiments and does research on eyes. The fact-based Ian Gray falls in love with Sofi played by Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, a woman whose life revolves around the recognition of higher powers and superstition. It is from their relationship and a few too many coincidences that Gray goes on a journey that tests the one thing he believes in: reason.
I like this movie because it was nothing like what I thought it would be. And the only assumption I had about it was the fact that eyes were somehow involved. That’s it. I lowkey thought it would be about an optometrist. So I guess if you’re given the choice between the 1h46m movie you’re about to see being about the life of an optometrist versus it being about two love stories and a spiritual journey, the latter would win in my opinion. Unless they were a really eccentric optometrist? I don’t know.
Now let’s get into this.
Is this going to be on the test?
Can I just start by saying this movie started as if we were going to be tested on its contents. I mean the first things we hear are Ian talking about the eyes that changed his life or something then he says, “Remember every detail of these eyes,” and ends by mumbling “okay.” Now that I think of it, I wonder if he were telling us to remember every detail or reminding himself. The way he mumbled okay at the end made me think of a doctor teaching a patient about something they know so much about that they no longer have the facilities to dumb down. You know when you have accepted something as true for so long that when you meet someone who has never encountered that idea before, it’s difficult to even give a basic definition? Like that.
Ian does take on a teaching role for the majority of this movie. As a “scientist” and “doctor” (those are in quotes because I kinda don’t like him) he acts as a teacher to Karen initially when she is a first-year student, then to Sofi (though no one asked him to) as a counter to her spiritualism that he finds to be childish and then on a national level when he’s interviewed by some guy in a studio about his work with iris patterns. He takes on that role of knowing everything always so encountering someone like Sofi who is comfortable being mostly ignorant of the spiritual/mystical “world” she claims is right on top of them without their knowledge. Her whimsical nature and beliefs act as perfect foils to Ian’s data-based existence which is why he fell in love with her and why he went on a journey to possibly prove her right. And what the hell did she get out of it? She died by exiting an elevator weirdly? I’m mad.
I don’t like Ian Gray
Here’s the thing: I love Michael Pitt. Boardwalk Empire? That was my shit. His wild eyes and slicked back hair was everything. His role as Jimmy was the main reason I even found this movie and the sole motivation for me to watch it. Now did I get a suave, well-dressed Michael Pitt with a hostility toward cops and general cowboy vibe? No. I got dorky Michael Pitt with notably bad hair whose only significant style choices were that of his evolution of GLASSES. I get it, he’s a different character blah blah he’s branching out blah blah you’re superficial and this is ridiculous blah blah but hear me out.
His physical mehness (mehness. definition: the state of being utterly meh) is just the icing on top of Ian Gray’s shitty character cake. He complains that Sofi is a child for her beliefs in superstition and there being a world beyond and all that, but he fell in love with her for that exact reason. I mean the first time they met she said some hooplah about a bird that can experience all of life and death in one moment and he definitely didn’t respond by saying, “Well statistically speaking there are only 50 species of birds who make noises and whether or not they are cognizant of their own deaths is up for debate.” NO. You know what he did? He slept with her. Then when she ditched him, he followed her. Then when she lost him, he found her.
He also had an annoying habit of not really responding to what she said. She would say something, anything and he would bring up something else entirely without even acknowledging what she said. Maybe that’s okay to some people, but that annoyed me. Possibly because when that happens to me, I get quite annoyed. Now don’t get me wrong I thought their love story was adorable, but mostly because Sofi is adorable. Let’s be very clear.
In Appreciation of a Good Side Character
Was it just me or were the side characters in this movie part of a world different from that of our main characters? The guy at the government center who told Sofi and Ian they couldn’t get married that day was unwaveringly chipper; it was wild. The way he said, “That way you can decide whether you wanna marry this young man!” sounded so odd in the context of this soft-lighting, high-pitched music, dreamy research movie (I have no idea what dreamy research means, but it makes sense to me here.) I loved it.
Also the waitress who did not give a fuck about them was incredible too. When Karen, Ian and Kenny were out to dinner and the waitress approached them asking if they wanted something else, they responded with some weird shit that was completely irrelevant to her job so she just repeated her question. It was great. I liked that Cahill snuck bits of humor in the movie especially when Ian and Karen did experiments and had to give each letter a full name/word in order to be explicitly clear about which letter it was. (“G as in goodness gracious. H as in help me, please. Z as in Zoolander.”) Kenny gave some comedic relief at points as well.
Answer My Q’s!
- If you saw this billboard in the wild,
- what the hell would you think it’s advertising?
- Can someone explain how Sofi died?
- And while you’re at answering that question, can you also explain why Ian’s visit to the dairy farm in Idaho made me cry? Thanks.
Before we go…
- I loved: “Turning over rocks and finding nothing IS progress” (thank you Karen)
- Archie Panjabi’s presence in this movie was appreciated although I would have liked more.
- Ian taking Salomina home with him, I’m assuming, definitely gave me some whiffs of white saviorism, but because he didn’t go to India with the intention of somehow saving anyone from themselves or their country, I didn’t have a problem with it.
- Ian and Sofi’s song (“Dust it Off” by The Dø) was beautiful
- The scene after the credits FREAKED ME OUT (Who is abstractly related to James Baldwin out here???)
“I Origins” was interesting and weird enough that I enjoyed it. I thought the whole premise of whether fate exists and the conflict between science and spirituality was fun to watch and quite touching.
However, I didn’t LOVE Dr. Ian Gray who was the main protagonist. If I’m not fully onboard with the main character of the movie whom I’m supposed to be rooting for the whole movie, then it’s hard for me to enjoy the entire experience. Now Karen was a character I liked from her introduction. If she were the main protagonist and the movie revolved around her finding a man she used to love and all that jazz, I think I would rate this movie higher simply because as a character, Karen is more likeable. (Is likeable a word? I’m unsure but I’m sticking with it.)
Thank you for reading!