Extraordinary Turns of Plot Mask the Shortcomings in I Origins

Extraordinary Turns of Plot Mask the Shortcomings in <i>I Origins</i>
Photo by Jelena Vukotic - © 2014 - Fox Searchlight
Michael Pitt and Astrid Bergès-Frisbey

Suppose you are in high school, and your interest in movies has begun to run deeper than multiplex fare. You may find yourself gravitating to a particular kind of intellectual film: the dour, the twisty, and the ostentatious must be regarded as the pinnacle of the form, because, you feel, you are a serious person who only has time for serious films.

A good movie, in your estimation, is one you had to think hard to solve, as you did with, say, Donnie Darko or Memento, which made you feel smart for working them out. Mike Cahill's I Origins owes a lot to this tradition, and it's easy to imagine many high school minds quite enjoying the self-contained puzzles of story and meaning its plot affords.

The film concerns the efforts of two scientists, played with ample pluck by Michael Pitt and Brit Marling, to map out the evolution of the human eye, an endeavor that soon leads, rather bafflingly, to dismemberment, globe-trotting, and revelations about the existence of God.

Location Info


AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13‎

1998 Broadway
New York, NY 10023

Category: Movie Theaters

Region: West 60s

Landmark Sunshine Cinema

143 E. Houston St.
New York, NY 10002

Category: Movie Theaters

Region: Lower East Side


Directed by Mike Cahill
Fox Searchlight
Opens July 18, Lincoln Square and Landmark Sunshine Cinema

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The story proceeds with all the flighty unreality of a film unconcerned with real-world scientific rigor (sample dialogue: "Maybe the eye really is the window to the soul!"), but Cahill manufactures enough conspiracies, coincidences, and extraordinary turns of plot to keep his thinking audience too busy to care. We're firmly in the territory of Serious Intellectual Film. The problem, of course, is that even in high school, thinking of plots as puzzles is a pretty facile way to think about films, and as such the pleasures of I Origins remain strictly superficial.

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Suppose you are a self-obsessed person so certain of your own genius that you have to shit on anyone or anything that doesn't fall within the small subset of culture that you consider worthy at that particular moment. Delighted by your own thoughts and witticisms without concern for the world at large, you might consider peddling smugness and undergrad vocabulary as criticism rather than attempting to connect in any meaningful or amusing way to the movies that you are assigned to review or the reader who will eventually stumble onto your convoluted sentences. A good review, in your estimation, is one that makes you feel sufficiently superior to the film at hand and the idiots who have the audacity to be anyone other than you. Calum Marsh owes a lot to this tradition of criticism and it's easy to imagine many equally pretentious lost souls and douchebags gravitating towards the brand of smug pseudo-intellectualism he provides. The problem, of course, is that this style of writing is easily reproduced because it is nothing but posturing in the first place (even in high school). I Origins is not a good film. He was right to dismiss it. However, the irony is that Calum's writing is just as flawed and empty as the film he attacked.


I guess I have to tell the kids at my lunch table that think Inception is the greatest movie ever about this.


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