Monday 29 September 2014

I Origins

Soul Survivor

I Origins
2014  USA
Directed by Mike Cahill
UK cinema release print.

Warning: There are going to have to be some slight spoilers in this review to be able to discuss it a little but, I promise I’ll try not to tell you anything you wouldn’t already pick up from the trailer.


Just that. Wow.

It’s always been my belief that some of the best films made every year are held back in the UK until an Autumn release. Once the big summer blockbuster movies have done the rounds and won’t eat up (or be challenged) by the smaller fish in the pond. This film right here validates that theory nicely.

I’ve not yet seen this director’s previous movie, Another Earth, although I really wanted to. It unfortunately disappeared from cinemas way too quickly for me to get the chance to go and have a look at it and so I was very conscious of the fact that I wanted to see this one before it hastily exits our screens in a similar fashion. And you can bet, after having seen this one, that I’ll be getting to Another Earth at some point very soon.

I Origins is a story about a molecular biologist called Ian, played by Michael Pitt, who has a passion for eyes. It starts off as a love story but takes you somewhere completely different. After a highly charged but failed sexual encounter with a girl at a Halloween party wearing a Diabolik mask, he is haunted by her and fails to notice his new lab assistant who is having brilliant research ideas that will change their lives forever. He has a very rigid and fixed set of scientific values, just like the new lab assistant Karen, played by Brit Marling (who was so good in The East, reviewed here). However, Ian is one of those people who has a strong link with unexplained phenomena/coincidence and he starts to notice the number 11 following him around (I’ve had similar issues at a certain point in my life but I’m not going to go into that right here).

The number 11 leads him to a giant billboard with the same eyes as the girl from the Halloween party (he took some high res photos of her eyes at the time) and eventually he tracks down the girl, called Sofi, as played by Astrid Bergès-Frisbey. Thus begins a love story that, as the trailer suggests, is destined to end in tragedy. I’m not going to tell you how Sofi dies because that’s not revealed in the marketing but... lets just say that it’s a particularly nasty kind of death and is the kind of incident you would normally expect to see in a horror film. Ian’s screams as he realises his soon-to-be-wife has died are such a painful ending to that particular scene that the director even dials back the sound after a little while, so we don’t have to hear Ian’s pain, and lets the visuals do all the work here.

Actually, and I know this is unusual for me people but, please, cut me some slack here... I can’t say too much about the cinematography and editing of this particular film because I was so immersed in the experience of discovering each twist and turn of the story. The performances by all the actors are so good that their characters come alive for you in a very real and identifiable way, it has to be said.

After the death of Sofi we then start the second phase of the film and a new romance enters Ian’s life. Then, we get to the third level of the film and it’s seven years down the line. Ian and his lab partner have made their important discovery and showed it to the world. Their research into eye patterns has made them world famous and financially buoyant. Ian’s wife gives birth to their son but, a number of months later, a research scientist calls up Ian to ask for permission to do some tests on his son under the pretence of looking for autism. When Ian and his wife walk out on the tests with their son due to the distressing nature of some of it... after a while, they get to thinking what was really behind them being contacted for their son’s test. With the help of their friend they find that their son’s eyes made him a candidate for a very special kind of experiment, one which they attempt to recreate themselves, in a series of almost scientifically impossible connections which take Ian to India to find the owner of the same pair of eyes as his previous dead lover.

I don’t want to be much more specific than that because that’s as much as you’ll get from the trailer, but the gradual road of discovery and the belief in the old saying that the eyes are the windows of the soul is very much the relevant point here. It’s a science fiction idea but it’s put together so cunningly and soundly that I can almost guarantee you’ll be absolutely riveted to your seat. It’s basically a love story and it challenges the notion of scientific analysis with the belief in a higher design without really cracking into either one as a concluding belief. Don’t get me wrong, the final shots of the movie do give a sense of closure to the questions raised throughout the course of the movie and leave me in no doubt as to what the writer/director’s final conclusion is... but I’ve never been one to believe that hard science and the realm of mystical thought in any way cancel each other out. I think they both just validate the same phenomena from different angles... although I have to confess I hate the idea of organised religion.

There’s a point in the movie where a woman tells Ian about a question once put to the Dalai Lama by a scientist. He was asked what he would feel about his religion if he was presented with absolute scientific proof that made him question his religious views. The answer was that he would study the evidence and, if necessary, he would change his views. She then asks Ian, our main male protagonist, what he would do if he was given a proof that made him question his rational belief in the scientific world as he understasnds it and I think this question nicely sums up the two opposing states at work throughout this movie. It’s a fascinating study of these kinds of questions/dilemmas and it’s shot and scored in a way that is compelling and moving.

That score, by the way, is by Will Bates and Phil Mossman and if I had to try and describe it I’d have to say that it’s a little like something Vangelis might have scored it with, but run through a minimalist, sensibility. Minimalistic like Eric Satie trying to find his way to Philip Glass while being bolstered with, almost throwaway, musical and ambient textures to pick out and highlight stretches and catch the ears at an appropriate moment. Very nice and the CD, which I’m surprised has even got a release for a film like this, is already out... so I’m looking forward to wrapping my ears around that one sometime soon.

This movie is an easy recommend for me. Anybody who’s into movies should love it. For me it’s right up there with this years best movies like The Grand Budapest Hotel, Only Lovers Left Alive and Under The Skin. A real gem of a movie and I absolutely love the fact that I hated the title so much but adored the movie. I will be picking this one up on blu ray as soon as it gets a release.

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