I Origins explores the window to the soul
The clumsily-titled I Origins tackles the widely contested "Science vs. Faith" debate, focusing on the evolution of the human eye as the one possible marker for intelligent design. Director Mark Cahill opts for a refreshingly low-key take on this concept, but I Origins' attempts to enter this territory are far from fruitful.
Biologist Dr. Ian Gray (Michael Pitt) is obsessed with the human eye in both his work and personal life. He collects photographs of people's eyes, even offering to take a picture of a veiled stranger, Sofi (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey). Together with his lab partner Karen (Brit Marling), they embark on a scientific discovery that greatly challenges his worldview, opening up a plausible new space for belief.
I Origins suffers the most with its near lazy approach towards an intelligent "Science vs. Faith" discourse, particular through the film's main romance. Pitt's protagonist is a staunch atheist who adheres to rationality, showing a great disdain when the word "soul" is even mentioned. His lover is a spiritual, carefree being, akin to a European-lite Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Naturally, the narrative progresses with these two clashing forces at the very heart of the debate. When the climax arrives, I Origins proposes a sinister turn, but the film deviates from this and returns to the comforting, safe cocoon of a formulaic romantic tragedy. Cahill's far more interested in love, which is affecting yet severely limiting. I Origins never initiates a definite answer, which is a relief, but it never makes a bold statement either. Worst of all, the film takes a long time to get to the heart of the debate, trudging its way towards a culmination of underdeveloped ideas surrounding faith and the afterlife.
However, Cahill's filmmaking is certainly aesthetically pleasing, the warm sunlight and captivating visuals are relatively affecting. The thematic eye references can be a bit overdone, such as when Sofi's eyes are on a giant advertising display at two strikingly different points in the film (it also rings close to the billboard eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg from The Great Gatsby). Nevertheless, the truly charming, ridiculously good-looking cast pulls this off with relative ease. Boardwalk Empire's Michael Pitt looks like a young Leo DiCaprio, and plays Gray, a predictably troubled protagonist, with a sympathetic aplomb. Marling is always a delight onscreen, and Bergès-Frisbey is rather alluring. Gray's buddy Kenny, played by the very likeable Steven Yeun, has fairly little screen time, but it is nice to see Yeun's acting sensibilities move beyond the world of The Walking Dead.
Plainly speaking, I Origins is an unbearably tedious film. It is borderline mundane at times, and feels the most weary when it latches on a "white man's world" slant. India in a Western film is typically depicted through an exotic, mystical lens and indeed, in I Origins, the country offers a possible spiritual solution for Gray's scientific validation. It becomes worrying that Gray's behaviour in India is widely acceptable, even in a scene when he brings a young Indian girl to his hotel room. Nothing happens of course, just some routine experiments, but the glaringly obvious problem of treating a white man's needs first is painfully prosaic and should deserve less attention.