Mike Cahill's new movie touches upon several of the themes he explored in Another Earth, a compelling opera prima done on a very low budget. Although it is an uneven movie, at least the first half hour of Another Earth is effectively disquieting and its premise is very intriguing. What if there was another planet just like ours across from us in space? Unfortunately, Cahill chucks the rich possibilities of metaphysical exploration in favor of heavy personal melodrama. Still, Another Earth is a much more accomplished and interesting film than I Origins.
This time, Cahill got more money for camera, casting, locations and lights and the movie looks better, but the content is not. In both films, Cahill's mishmash of scifi, romance and melodrama doesn't quite gel. Whereas in Another Earth he showed promise, in I Origins Cahill seems way out of his depth.
Michael Penn and Brit Marling play a couple of extremely good looking scientists who are trying to recreate a biological eye in the lab. Even if their scientific jargon is realistic, it sounds like mumbo jumbo. The audience is confused and we swat it away. There is nothing remotely believable in this movie, which is an uneasy mix of romantic fantasy, scientific caper, and sophomoric spiritual philosophizing. It's a problem when a movie about intelligent people is not intelligent enough.
The movie starts as Dr. Ian Gray (Pitt) meets a mysterious, and like many such creatures in film, obnoxious young woman (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), who may or may not be some sort of ancient spirit. She picks a fight with the doctor over his steadfast, and increasingly obtuse refusal to believe even in the existence of the soul. A lot of weird unexplainable things happen to him that he tries to solve through reasoning; the universe is trying to tell him something that he refuses to hear. This happens for way too long, so we lose patience. Then the movie veers into some vague pursuit of the possibility of reincarnation. None of it is compelling, none of it is sufficiently explained, or even convincingly believed by anyone involved. Michael Pitt is lovely to look at, but he seems to be phoning it in, Brit Marling is, as usual intriguingly charismatic, but she plays the same person she always does. The only good things in the movie are a wonderful Archie Panjabi and a soulful Indian girl called Kashish.
I thought of Terence Malick's The Tree Of Life, a tone poem that amazed and exasperated people in equal numbers. Malick, I think, was trying to express, mostly in stunning visuals, that a belief in evolution and faith in divine grace are not mutually exclusive. Mike Cahill is trying to aim that high, but does not have the poetic gifts of Terence Malick, and he is incapable or reaching anything beyond the obvious.