‘I Origins”: An awful eyeful of New Age hokum

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For 21st Century Media

Homophones can be a tricky business. In speech, they can be used by design for pun-driven jocularity or lead to unintentional confusion. In the latter case, when homonyms are reduced to the printed form, it usually obviates confusion.
The word, “I” is a first person singular pronoun. The term, “eye,” denotes the organ of sight. Despite its title, “I Origins” actually revolves around the origin of the human eye. Perhaps, this was projected as some sort of double entendre. Like many of the other aspects of this film, it evidences that its writer/director/producer, Mike Cahill, fancies himself quite the clever fellow.
Dr. Ian Gray (a thoroughly unconvincing Michael Pitt) is a brainy molecular biologist, who is studying the human eye. He marvels at its sophistication, which he attributes to the process of evolution. Bear in mind, that Creationists cite the existence of the human eye as proof of intelligent design. So the film pits secular rationalism, embodied at the film’s outset by the protagonist, with a deocentric view of the universe.
We know that Ian is an elitist jerk from the condescending way that he treats a new female graduate student, Karen (Brit Marling, who starred and co-wrote Cahill’s debut film, “Another Earth”). He also lacks scruples. This becomes apparent when he offers to give Karen academic credit for the semester if she will simply stay away from the lab and allow him to work undistracted. Despite Ian’s hubris, Karen is actually much smarter than he is. She immediately identifies the obvious flaw in the design of Ian’s longstanding research study and proposes a vastly improved alternative.
Ian takes a break from his groundbreaking research to attend a wild, bacchanalian party. There, he meets a young woman. She sports a black leather fetish outfit and a stocking mask that obfuscates her face. The mystery woman speaks with an indeterminate foreign accent. She has stunning multi-colored eyes, which Ian asks to photograph.
One thing leads to another. The next thing you know, the two adjourn to a bathroom, where they have anonymous, unprotected sex. In the prevailing epidemiological milieu, is such reckless behavior reconcilable with the character’s putative rationalism? After concluding his tryst, Ian makes a singularly ill-considered remark to his impromptu partner. The nameless woman abruptly departs into the night.
Courtesy of the internet, Ian tracks down the enigmatic woman. She turns out to be a model, Sofi (Astrid Berges-Frisbey). Ian is an avowed atheist and Sofi is deeply spiritual. However, this fundamental conflict in belief systems doesn’t diminish their ardor.
As with his prior film, “Another Earth,” Mike Cahill is again pandering to a high-brow audience. However, the screenplay for “I Origins” is fraught with glaring glitches in conceptualization, internal logic, and plausibility. Through his protagonist stand-in, Cahill does a lot of pompous intellectual posturing. However, the ideation of his central premise is disconcertingly muddled.
“I Origins” conflates the notion of intelligent design with reincarnation. It also confuses coincidence with faith. A particularly ludicrous vignette involves Ian purchasing a lottery ticket in a convenience store. He receives $11.11 in change at exactly 11:11:11 a.m. As he steps outside, the Route 11 bus pulls up. Later, Ian learns that a deceased man, named Paul Derry Farmer was — get this — a dairy farmer. All this is supposed to justify the rejection of empiricism in favor of blind faith. This pretentious poppycock is cringe-worthy.

A screen capture of the trailer for the movie "I Origins" at http://www.ioriginsmovie.com/

A screen capture of the trailer for the movie “I Origins” at http://www.ioriginsmovie.com/

“I Origins” has a single, albeit significant, redeeming component. Late in the film, the action shifts to New Delhi. For reasons that make absolutely no sense, Ian tries to track down a young, orphaned urchin, Salomina (Kashish), on the streets of the city. The contrivances surrounding the search are another example of farfetched plotting. It is also reflects the utter ineptitude of the film’s purportedly super-smart protagonist.
That said, the debut performance by Kashish is extraordinarily resonant in its naturalness. She was discovered by Dilip Shankar, who had previously cast “Life of Pi.” In real life, Kashish is an orphan at the Salaam Baalak School in New Delhi. Even before gleaning this parenthetical tidbit, I was profoundly moved by her portrayal and struck by its sense of verisimilitude. Her quiet earnestness is a marvel to behold. It offers a stark contrast to the disingenuousness of the film. Whatever Kashish does in life, I wish her luck.
Despite a stirring performance by newcomer Kashish, “I Origins” is an awful eyeful of New Age hokum.

“I Origins”
** R (for some sexuality/nudity, and language) 113 minutes

Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at lernerprose@gmail.com.


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