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Review: I Origins

Not so much a movie, as it is an immersive experience, Mike Cahill’s film I Origins will probably be on a lot of year-end top-ten lists…and perhaps inspire just as many walkouts from the theatre. I Origins plays out almost like going all-in a high-stakes poker game. We either need to move in all of our chips and hope for the best or not even show up to the table.

For most movies to inspire this love of fandom / anti-fandom, there is usually some level of disruptive element. I Origins, though, contains neither graphic violence, nor lack of a coherent narrative. There is no sense of feeling ‘cheated’ by the story, or of not being given all of the clues to appreciate the movie’s intricacies. Instead, what will leave some audience members open to I Origins, and others closed is that individual’s desire to believe in a story that offers very few easy answers, but a multitude, and perhaps infinite possibilities.

Michael Pitt plays scientist Ian Gray, who sees the number “eleven” over and over. Before we think that the film will descend into some Jim Carrey / Joel Schumacher type of madness and weirdness, Gray’s obsession with ‘elevens’ gives over to a more sensible one, a consuming passion for the mysterious Sofi, (the bewitching Astrid Berges-Frisbey), whom he met at a party earlier, but then to whom could not get through.

Gray sees Sofi on the subway, and begins to enter with her into a sensual and, quite honestly, infatuated relationship. He must find a way to balance his obsession with his emerging work at the laboratory on the study of eyes and the origin of species, along with perhaps the least likely-looking graduate assistant, Karen, (Brit Marling).

After a breakthrough at the lab, Gray grows weary of having Sofi only experience the wonder of his places, so he ventures to her apartment, where he glances at her photos, but still learns very little about his lady love. They then get into Sofi’s elevator which is clearly not up to code.  After some unpleasantness getting from floor to floor, (and some heavier-handed eye symbolism), the film jumps seven years into the future…and there things start to really get metaphysical.

By now, the typical audience member will either have become fully engrossed in the pursuit of the I Origins with Ian Gray, or, equally likely, have given up on the film, and instead look for a more mainstream release. This is too bad, because Cahill (and Pitt) present such a fascinating mystery, that perhaps only in an ill-advised mid-credits sequence does I Origins go truly awry.

Perhaps the only film in memory that presented and demanded such an immersive experience is a Cronenberg film, but surprisingly, Brandon Cronenberg’s Antiviral. I Origins is far less representationally gross than Antiviral, and Pitt makes a more compelling lead actor than Caleb Landry Jones, though the themes of beauty and obsession, (and rebirth), knot the two films to each other. Berges-Frisbey’s inaccessible and yet bright-eyed Sofi very much resembles Sarah Gadon’s Hannah Geist, (though Berges-Frisbey uncannily possesses the eyes of Léa Seydoux).

Embrace it or give up on it, I Origins is far more original than almost every current release and has a lot of redeeming qualities. The camerawork is stunning, the locations to which we are taken to are incredible, and the music, especially the Radiohead songs, is in its right place. I Origins is definitely worth a look.

[star v=35]