The Sundance Institute has announced that I Origins is this year’s winner of the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize, “selected by a jury of film and science professionals and presented to outstanding feature films focusing on science or technology as a theme, or depicting a scientist, engineer or mathematician as a major character.” Among critics, the film has its champions, but overall, the reception hasn’t been as warm as the jury’s.
“Persuasive sci-fi tech talk, soulful romance and an earnest stab at metaphysics combine in American director Mike Cahill’s polished second feature (after 2011’s similarly themed Another Earth),” begins Joshua Rothkopf in Time Out. “I Origins, like Another Earth, poses a big ‘what-if’ involving the singular nature of the soul, and if you don’t go in with at least a smidgen of cosmic open-mindedness, you’re going to get a case of the giggles.”
“The story begins,” explains Tim Grierson in Screen Daily, “as Ian Gray [Michael Pitt] is pursuing his PhD in molecular biology, specifically interested in the eye, which he believes holds the secret to proving to Creationists that human beings aren’t the product of a divine being…. Amidst his studies, though, Ian falls in love with a model named Sofi (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) whose gorgeous eyes transfix him. However, their burgeoning love isn’t the only highlight of Ian’s life: His lab assistant Karen [Brit Marling] has isolated a species of sightless worm that she’s been able to mutate to give it vision, proving his thesis.” Then “Ian and Sofi’s passionate romance comes to an end abruptly and startlingly… Seven years later, Ian and Karen are married and enjoying the success of his bestselling book that explains their groundbreaking research. But when the happy couple have their first child, questions about the newborn put into motion upsetting new revelations about Ian’s research.”
“Once you’ve solved the mystery,” warns the AV Club‘s A.A. Dowd, “there’s little to do but wait for Pitt’s stubborn rationalist—whose certainty, the film helpfully, constantly reminds, is another form of dogma—to catch up. This is arted-up twist cinema at its most self-important, building to an ending that’s designed to blow minds but doesn’t pack any of the emotional wallop it should.” HitFix‘s Drew McWeeney agrees that “it telegraphs its ending a good hour earlier, and then spends that hour spinning its wheels.”
I Origins “refuses to let a modest budget constrain its larger-than-life-itself concept, cramming everything from the existence of God to a new, all-encompassing theory of reincarnation into the guise of a sexy, globe-trotting detective movie that very nearly collapses under the weight of its own mumbo-jumbo.” Variety‘s Peter Debruge: “And yet, the film amounts to a lousy sort of magic show, schematically pulling strings to prove its own points.”
But at the Playlist, Rodrigo Perez gives the film a solid B+ and calls it an “intelligent and ambitious adult drama in the vein of a young Christopher Nolan or Danny Boyle.”
James Rocchi for Film.com, where Jason Guerrasio interviews Cahill and Pitt: “Watching I Origins, I was reminded of one of Carl Sagan’s most astute observations: ‘When people say “Science doesn’t have all the answers,” what they mean is “We don’t have all the science.”‘ Here, Cahill is making up science to solve questions with made-up answers—and neither are especially interesting. But the film is attractively shot by Markus Forderer, and Cahill himself edits the film, deftly in the moment but somewhat drearily in its completeness. The score, moving and elegant and in keeping with the tonal shifts of the film (whether you like those shifts or not) by Will Bates and Phil Mossman—aka Fall on Your Sword—is perhaps one of the better achievements of the film.”
Variety‘s Andrew Stewart reports that Fox Searchlight has picked up worldwide rights.
Updates, 2/1: “The movie’s not worth ruining,” writes Wesley Morris at Grantland. “But, loosely, it’s either about the limits of scientific explanation or how absurd Dr. Pitt looks in a bow tie.” Another Earth “is also a runaway emotional implausibility, but it has a cosmic sweet spot that’s missing here.”
For Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn, “Another Earth had the appeal of a Twilight Zone episode, infusing its ridiculous premise with allegorical depth. Cahill’s far more refined follow-up, I Origins is more like a knock-off of The X-Files that grounds its admittedly preachy science-versus-faith battles in subtler moments. While still invested in grandiose swipes at big ideas and the epistemological babbling of a late night college dorm room conversation, Cahill generates an authentic sense of mystery by keeping a tighter lid on the secrets of the universe.”
“The film’s unapologetic complexity, and its plot hinging on fictionalized science-cum-philosophy, might be a stumbling block for some,” grants Alexandra Marvar at Cinespect. “But those willing to go along for the ride can expect a provocative and rewarding story—and to shed a tear or several in the revelatory scene.”
Carlos Aguilar talks with Cahill for Indiewire and Kristin McCracken interviews Cahill and Pitt for the Playlist.
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