Films about ideas are starting to make a come-back. Common forty years ago, they’ve been generally relegated to the far corners of the indie circuit for decades since. I’m not talking about having a point. Most films, especially indies, have points, whether as simple as Frances Ha or as profound as 12 Years a Slave. But creating film around ideas is significantly more challenging because the idea can overwhelm what a film should be doing, which is telling a story. Yes, I’m leaving out the avantguarde and purely experimental or moving art because they are not movies, they are art in a film medium. (Fine, we can debate this one later.)
Writer/director Cahill (Another Earth) along with his oft-time partner, Marling (The East), are very much working to add to the growing wave of idea films. And I Origins is very much a film about ideas: science, religion, faith, love and the intersections\interactions of all these. On an idea level, it is gripping. On a story level it will keep you going. On a script and acting level, though, it feels a bit pedantic and forced more often than I’d like. There are, however, enough moments of real emotion to help smooth it out and keep me intrigued.
Pitt (The Dreamers) was not my favorite choice for the lead here. He doesn’t quite project the feel of a real scientist in focus nor intelligence. Neither does he have the presence for me on screen to keep me riveted. He is serviceable, but is far outclassed by his fellow actors. Even at her most restrained, Marling is hard to ignore and always comes across as fiercely intelligent and capable.
In the other key role, Berges-Frisbey (Pirates: On Stranger Tides) serves her purpose well. That is mostly as an object, which is odd, but somehow appropriate in this story. It feels a bit contradictory that I feel that the film does have strong female roles, but discuss one as an object, but she is a willful and independent object, so go with it and judge in your own time. She is utterly sensual and it is always clear why Pitt’s character would fall for her. What isn’t so clear is why she would fall for him, but I’ve seen stranger matches. I would have liked a bit more script support up front, however, for their relationship lasting so long despite some of the explanations that emerge over time.
In a much smaller, but important roles, Panjabi (The Fall, The Good Wife) and first timer Kashish help wrap up the film. And that ending is, let us just say, either incredibly creepy or bloody obvious (or both), depending on how you want to parse the clues and final moment. It isn’t a crisp fade to black by any stretch. Again, it is a film about ideas, so they want you to think and consider and debate; of that I am confident. I think it hurt the film, however. A definitive stance and statement would have been more satisfying, though they really did paint themselves into a corner.
There is also a coda after the credits. And, honestly, this is one of the weakest bits of the film. I suspect it was left-over footage that they rightly pulled out but decided to add as a tag and gift to the audience. It is a final comment to think about, but not one I think works well or has any additional value above the film. In fact, it cheapens it a bit to my mind as the idea is obvious and there without having to show it.
If I sound a bit frustrated, it is only because there is so much in this piece and its structure is nicely designed. I wanted it to be more polished. I wanted a better film above the ideas. That doesn’t make this a bad viewing, it just didn’t reach the potential I saw it could have. It is still, most definitely, worth watching.