Following on from the critically acclaimed debut feature Another Earth for Mike Cahill, the pressure is now on the filmmaker to create something equally as inventive and ingenious as his preceding endeavour – and it’s something he’s certainly accomplished with the ambitious I Origins, which studiously explores the age-old science versus faith debate.
I Origins – which tells the tale of Ian (Michael Pitt) a molecular biologist – and atheist – who, alongside his lab partner (Brit Marling) believes to have uncovered revolutionary evidence that transcends what we can comprehend as a species. Cahill told us that this agenda-free look into such a contentious topic reflects his own personality.
“We’re not so one note as humans,” he said. “Some days I wake up and I’m so sceptical, I need more proof than anybody, I won’t buy into anything. But some days I wake up and I’m totally the opposite, I believe there is way more to life than what we see around us, there is some mechanism at work that is way bigger than we can comprehend. There’s some sort of magic or metaphysical hand at work. Then I wake up on Wednesday and feel exactly the opposite, so all the characters represent a part, or a shade of my thinking at any given time.”
Given the nature of the film, and the inclination to delve into pseudo-intellectualism, Cahill hopes that the subtext will ensure audiences will never feel lost watching his production. “It’s a complicated movie and ambitious, and that made me nervous,” he admitted. “I wanted the science to be legitimate, but I thought it would be so dense. It’s not what entertainment is. But then I thought, fuck it, this is so fascinating to me. So I was worried, but I wanted to do it anyway. At least when we watch movies we feel the subtext more than the text, so I could have two scientists talking about stuff that sounds Greek but you can feel the romance underneath. That was to my advantage and allowed me to do nerd talk.”
What also helped Cahill, is that his brother is also a molecular biologist, and so was able to view people in such a profession in very social, informal terms – and he admitted that Pitt took pointers from his sibling to help craft the role of Ian. “Yeah Michael based his character on him. He even took his mannerisms. Scientists are portrayed in such a cliched way in movies, never how they really are. It’s just a job, they still have a pint after work, you know? They’re not like Beaker from The Muppets.”
Eyes are a prevalent theme in this title, and a means of driving the narrative forward, while Ian’s intense relationship with Sofi (Astrid Bergés-Frisbey) is based, primarily, on her very eyes. Cahill explained to us that forming ‘iconic’ eyes was a lot harder that it read on the page.
“The eyes were really hard. Figuring out how to do that cinematically was really hard. The script says, ‘the character has iconic eyes’. But what the hell are iconic eyes? And it’s not like someone else wrote it – I wrote it. So I tried to think of eyes you’d remember, like a flag. Take Spain, or England, or China, you know what the flag looks like, very simple, just a couple of colours, a few shapes and that will leave an impression on your mind. But a blue eye is just a blue eye, it’s not memorable. So there was a lot of trial and error to make these eyes feel iconic, how would we remember them a second time? But we figured that digitally.”
While science fiction is most likely to be how this film is categorised, it fuses genres effectively, at one point a romantic drama, and at others an intense thriller. But the one constant is emotion – as a film that has the potential to move and compel its audience. Even Cahill confessed to having being caught up in the movie at a recent film festival.
“I’ve seen it three thousand times, and I watched it recently at a festival in France and I got choked up. I was trying to cover my face, I was all teary. It was weird,” he continued. “When making these movies you have no idea if people are going to hate it, and sometimes people do, and apparently I make divisive films. It’s rare people are neutral about my films, they either hate it or like it, and feel something. But when you’re making it you have no sense of that. But, you do have a sense of what it does to yourself.”
“It’s not that it connecting with me is most important, it’s that it’s my most immediate access point. It’s the thing I know is real. I’ve made so many short films that are so bad, and when you watch it you don’t feel anything. It might be visually interesting, but if it doesn’t trigger something in my core, I know that and I can’t run away from it.”
One of the most prominent comparisons to be made between I Origins and Another Earth, is the inclusion of actress Brit Marling, who Cahill praises, in what is yet another stunning turn for the talented actress. “Brit is the most subtle. Her role is so hard. She’s phenomenally talented.”
And there could well be scope in a third collaboration between the pair, as Cahill admits to us that a sequel to I Origins is well underway.
“I have thought about what happens to them in the future and what happens to the world – there’s a whole sequel planned called I. This is the prequel,” he said. “There’s a full script, but there’s a few things happening now at the same time, so trying to juggle all the different projects at once.”