Release: Friday, July 18, 2014 (limited)
I would like to conduct some research and find out the origins of the eye-roll. I wonder who the first person to do it was, and how such a subtle gesture came to signify “Oh my god, I don’t believe this for a second.”
A science-based drama whose fictional elements are of a highly serendipitous nature, I Origins requires a radically high level of suspension of disbelief. And even if you are willing to put that effort in there’s a good chance you won’t be rewarded for your patience and — pardon the expression — good faith, as the story often times ditches emotional attachment in favor of trying to impress with biology jargon and fancy rhetoric.
The director of the curious sci-fi fantasy Another Earth ushers into cinemas another potentially profound conversation starter — “hey, did you know that eyes really are the windows to the soul? No, I’m not kidding. You should check out this movie called. . .” — but unfortunately you’d be left with just one “good” opening line and not much to back it up. If you dared venturing any further with what you know of the movie, you’d be sitting there trying to explain to your date, who now shifts pretty uncomfortably in their seat, why particular iris patterns probably means Charles Darwin was onto something.
In other words, all this profound shit can be romantic, but to a point.
If you somehow haven’t yet rolled your eyes in response to this overblown set-up to my review, then I’ve achieved something perhaps just as miraculous as the finding of a little girl in India, a special individual who just happens to possess the exact eyes Dr. Ian Gray (Michael Pitt) has been on the hunt for for years. He and his lab partner, Karen (Brit Marling) have been working on the theory that the complexity of the human eye is a major indicator of evolution as opposed to intelligent design being the work of a superior being.
To counter all the cold, calculating world of science, Cahill then presents a French woman named Sofi (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) whom Ian happens upon at a party one cold evening. An enigma whose views on God and the afterlife are initially as wrapped in mystery as her skin is by layers of winter clothing, Sofi ultimately embodies that part of us which is concerned with a higher power. When the two fall into a deep and passionate love, flavors of Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet are hinted at as I Origins quickly goes off on a romantic tangent. Oddly enough, this won’t be the last time a comparison to modern fairytales can be easily made, though it might be the last positive one.
Sofi is a role with dual purposes. While serving as a refreshingly down-to-Earth religious individual, she’s also the emotional core to the film. That’s an achievement both accidental and through the direction of a man with big ideas. By design, Sofi’s a tragic character, our emotional attachment to whom we’ll pay dearly for roughly an hour into the affair. It’s purely through less assured writing we feel only something for her and barely register any empathy for any others. (Well, barring one particular event.) Neither Karen nor Ian have been blessed with much personality. Then again, the pair spend most of their waking hours in a lab under fluorescent lighting.
But really, these are minor issues when compared. What is a bigger deal is the fact that I Origins exudes confidence when it really shouldn’t. The smoke and mirrors tactic gets old in a hurry once we realize the stack of happenstance situations are merely byproducts of a clumsy, seemingly rushed script and not more evidence of God moving in mysterious ways.
The fact that Ian Gray encounters the child he needs to, where he needs to; his crazy billboard strategy — which is his desperate attempt to lure ‘the eyes’ to a central location to force this search to have even an ounce of realism — and the fact it even works at all, are all symptoms of a script that is jumping to conclusions too fast. We’re not sure if these moments are incidental, or if they have something to do with the (dis)connect between religion and science.
By the time the film arrives in India it’s too much set-up and not enough proof. There is something to be said for failed experiments. But what of the positive things are there to say? Unfortunately this time, there aren’t that many.
Recommendation: If you’re fancying something on the intriguing side, you could do much much worse than this semi-spiritual, semi-scientific approach to an age-old debate. Very chicken-and-the-egg type of argument that unfortunately loses its footing as it plods onward. Viewers who have seen Another Earth might be more attracted to the director’s sense of style and his dreamy visuals but anyone else might find themselves underwhelmed. Especially for those looking for a believably thought-provoking discussion.
Running Time: 107 mins.
Quoted: “What would you do if something spiritual disproved your scientific beliefs?”
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