King Arthur: Legend of the Sword starts with elephants the size of castles and ends with snakes the size of rivers and there isn’t much sandwiched in between that’s any less ridiculous. A monochromatic mess replete with sketchy, video game-esque CGI and an often out of focus, mangled 3D conversion, Guy Ritchie’s bonkers fantasy film ditches the legend of the sword in the stone of yore for something that feels equally indebted to Heavy Metal and Shadow of Mordor cut scenes. Read More
David Hume was a Scottish Empiricist who believed that knowledge comes only from those things that we can directly observe. We know that double bacon cheeseburgers exist because we can see them, we can smell them, we can taste them (Mmmmm.) God on the other hand cannot be seen, smelt or tasted, so his existence is improvable (not to be confused with impossible.) Something like love though is more tricky for the empiricist philosophers because, we experience it acutely but not through any of those five basic senses. So what is love? Hell if I know. Thankfully, that’s pretty much what director Mike Cahill has to say as well.
Our Mr. Hume also made an important correlation between the advancement of scientific progress and a decreased frequency of miracle reports. In essence, as we became more prone to understanding the world through scientific means, mankind’s knee-jerk reaction to label anything beyond the ordinary as “miraculous” became more tempered. So while a volcanic eruption once seemed like the wrath of God manifested in hot globular chaos, we now know that it’s simply the result of pressurized magma forced out of mountains because of tectonic shifts. Still, the miracle doesn’t become the mundane; it’s equally mind-rending to behold a volcano blowing its top for the casual observer and even that “scientific” explanation is pretty insane and magical when you really think about it. Faith, in a way, can be science.
I Origins‘ Ian (Michael Pitt) is a substitute for Hume. He’s a molecular biologist who lives by the belief that he will someday find scientific fact to disprove religious cornerstones. One particular religious cornerstone that Ian has set his sights on disproving is that of the human eye being a creation of intelligent design. All he and lab partner Karen (Brit Marling) have to do is build an eye for a non-seeing creature and wham, bam, thank you ma’am, there goes the intelligent design argument. It’s not that Ian necessarily has a vendetta against the idea of faith so much as he sees himself and his field of study on a crash course with religious zealotry and has set out to safe-guard his work with indisputable facts. In his mind, you can’t be a scientist and a spiritualist. Accordingly, his secular mindset is all-encompassing. The scientific approach, the only one worth his time and thought.
But this concept becomes irreversibly challenged when self-occupied, occasionally magnanimous and always very French Sofi (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) meets Ian and an indelible mark on his mind and soul. “What if there were more to the world than what you see?” Sofi ponders. If a blind creature cannot perceive light, isn’t it possible then that you could be “blind” to a sixth, seventh, eighth sense? Hell the mantis shrimp has sixteen color-receptive cones to our three, meaning it sees colors that we can’t even begin to imagine. Like salmon blue, mud pink or white-black. Not gray. White-black. Why can’t there be white-black spiritual beings hovering in and around us all the time?
Mike Cahill isn’t afraid to ask questions like this, nor does he feel obligated to answer them. In effect, I Origin is an exploration into the messy nature of faith that refuses to take a definitive stance and is that much richer for it. Rather than showing us the folly of science and the triumph of faith or vice versa, Cahill’s offered up the shortcomings to each and left us in a morally ambiguous zone that challenges us to flesh out and face our own conclusions. He treats the battle between faith and science as a sparring match between a blind woman and a deaf man. There’s no way for either to win but it’s still fun to watch them duke it out.
Pitt in this lead role has come further out from under the shell of Boardwalk Empire, carving out a character all his own who is totally compelling, especially when faced with crippling mental roadblocks. Ian’s transformation is delicate and played with potent poignancy from Pitt, who is matched every step by Brit Marling. This is largely due to Cahill’s more sensitive side showing through as across the board, the performances are largely elevated; the characters, clearly deeply cared for.
The empiricist can only know what’s there in front of them and on that basis alone, we can deduce that I Origins is a bold, immensely watchable philosophical journey. Rich with thematic nuance and stuffed with just the kind of questions that will keep you up at night pondering, I Origins is a brave addition to a growing collection of heady sci-fact pictures from Mike Cahill. He’s certainly set an intriguing course, one that I’ll look forward to tracking, but for now, we just have to hope he’s not scooped up to direct the reboot of the rebooted Spiderman.