Last night I attended a midnight screening of the world premiere of Cooties, a comedy set in an elementary school that is in the midst of a zombie outbreak among the young students. It was subversive, hilarious, and thrilling, and it was one of those movies that had you laughing out loud one minute, and gasping in shock the next. In short, it was well worth the late night, but as I tucked myself into bed at nearly 3AM, I grimly set my alarm for a mere four hours later, as I had a ticket for an early screening this morning. I would be lying if I didn’t say that just four hours of sleep hurt, but I simply reminded myself that this is Sundance, and you have to experience everything you can. By 11AM this morning, a mere eight hours later, I was never so happy to be sleep deprived.
The film at the root of my sleep deprivation was I Origins, the second feature film from writer/director/editor Mike Cahill, and it is a film that is nearly impossible to describe. Part love story, part science fiction, part mystery, part travel odyssey, and part philosophical reflection on the ideological conflict between science and religion, I Origins is completely unlike anything I’ve ever seen on screen. I know I will still be thinking about this film months from now, and I’m pretty sure that I still won’t know how to describe it even then.
I Origins tells the story of scientist Ian Gray, a molecular biologist who is working to prove that the human eye can be scientifically traced back through evolution, and thereby negate the religious argument that the human eye’s design is proof of an intelligent creator. Through his life and work, his discoveries uncover more than he ever thought possible, and as the film examines the differences between religious faith and scientific fact, it posits the question: What would it take for you to renounce your beliefs, be they religious or scientific?
The cast is uniformly superb, led by actors Brit Marling, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, and Steven Yeun, but it is Michael Pitt as Ian Gray who anchors the film in a brilliant performance as a character of steely conviction, but one with just enough subtle cracks to allow him to embrace the wide eyed wonder of his discoveries. A steadfast believer in the absolute facts that science dictates, Ian is also an advocate for questioning, learning, and revision of those facts as new evidence presents itself, and when the laws of science fail him, the result is breathtaking.
During the Q&A after the film, an audience member declared that this was the best film she had ever seen, and I have to say, I’m hard pressed to disagree with her. I Origins is a stunning film that tells a complex, moving, and utterly unpredictable story; one which makes you think about the capacities of your beliefs and your convictions in their boundaries. Furthermore, this film offers up a haunting look at a possible future that is limitless but also unnerving, and reminds us all that for every scientific breakthrough, there are consequences lying in wait. All in all, this is a film that I will not soon forget, and I will be forever thankful that I didn’t ignore the alarm clock this morning.