Mike Cahill's new film, I Origins, proves there's a place in this world for earnest, borderline-hokey sci-fi philosophical meditations. The director of the 2011 indie sci-fi drama Another Earth this time explores topics from evolution and eyesight to the existence of the afterlife.
Like the novel and movie Life of Pi, I Origins places the audience in a locked room with two doors and one master key. The plot is spent elaborating the rules of the mystery of why you're in the locked room. Each door is a solution to the mystery: one defined by a prosaic, uninspiring explanation and the other by a cosmic sense of wonder at the unexplainable. Which door you open largely depends on the decisions you make internalizing the film. Both films attempt to prove the existence of God.
I Origins focuses on Ian Gray, a scientist researching the evolution of the eyeball, or lack in evidence thereof. He wants to fill in the evolutionary gaps between the naturally occurring simple eye and complex eye found in the animal kingdom. He's bent on doing this in part so that he can disprove debunkers who claim that the fact of an eye is a weak link in the theory of natural selection, and thus evidence of intelligent design. In other words, Ian believes only in the scientific method, and certainly not in God.
Karen (Brit Marling) is Ian's more-than-capable research assistant in the endeavor. Ian's perspective is turned upside down, though, when he encounters Sofi (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey), who challenges his core beliefs with her confidence that there's more to the universe than what can be scientifically observed.
The script is full of puns and references to vision, like: love at first sight, accidental blindness, intellectual blind spots, looking for something that's right in front of you, a Gatsby-like billboard, and on and on — even that name, Ian Gray.
But it's easy to forgive these minor lapses when there's so much thematic meat to grab ahold of. Are science and religion compatible? What is love? Do facts close us off to other possibilities? What are the practical explanations for coincidences and déjà vu? And these questions aren't (always) asked in simplistic terms but encoded in complex constructs that make you work to find the answer.
The film ends in a gorgeous interstellar burst to the tune of Radiohead's "Motion Picture Soundtrack," providing an emotional, cathartic release bathed in sunlight that made me want to bawl. I can't wait to see it again, to free myself from the locked room once more.