I Origins: Review – Sundance 2014

By Michael Schilf · January 19, 2014

It was my second full day at Sundance. I had just finished up on the red carpet, and I was excited to enter the Eccles Theater for the world premiere of I Origins, writer/director Mike Cahill’s second feature film. When I took my seat in the center of the 1270 seat theater, the energy was palpable and infectious. 

I had no idea what to expect exactly, but if I Origins could match Cahill’s 2011 success with Another Earth, I knew I’d be in for a wonderful experience. Not only were my expectations met, Cahill, along with his truly talented cast, exceeded them in every way imaginable.

Molecular biologist Ian Gray (Michael Pitt – Boardwalk Empire, The Dreamers) is completing his PhD. program in New York along with best friend and roommate Kenny (Steven Yeun – The Walking Dead) when two seemingly opposite types of women are thrust upon Ian. The logical thinking, fact finding Karen (Brit Marling – Another Earth) is assigned to him as his new lab assistant, and the nonconformist free spirit perfume model Sofi (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey – Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides) allures him at a night club Halloween party.

With Karen busy back at the lab striving to prove the theory of evolution by finding a way to develop an eye in a worm, which has no sense of sight (I won’t spoil the science for you), Ian is preoccupied with falling in love with the mysterious and vivacious Sofi. Yet on the eve of Karen and Ian achieving a profound scientific discovery, tragedy strikes in the most unexpected way, and Ian most move forward without living in the past, yet the past still finds a way to be born again in the most unforeseen way.

I certainly don’t want to spoil this gem of a film by being too specific, but I will say that Cahill is exploring questions of our existential identity and the regeneration of our soul, two themes, I think, that Cahill is revisiting from Another Earth.

The integration of science to enhance the story and top-notch performances are the dual action adhesive of I Origins.  It’s science fiction on the highest level, but it’s the human connection between the characters that really makes you care. If you enjoyed Another Earth, you most certainly will love I Origins. Cahill has delivered a unique and thought-provoking feature film, and I look forward, like many others, to his next project.