The Washington Post

Director Mike Cahill on his favorite movie, faith, science and existential questions

(Yana Paskova/For The Washington Post)
Writer and editor

Mike Cahill, 35, is a 2001 Georgetown University graduate whose films include 2011’s “Another Earth” and the just-released “I Origins.” Both were recipients of the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film prize at the Sundance Film Festival. The prize is given to films focusing on science or technology.

“I Origins” is a movie about whether science can disprove intelligent design. But it’s essentially a movie about faith.

Joe Heim joined The Post in 1999. He is currently a staff writer for the Metro section's Local Enterprise team. He also writes Just Asking, a weekly Q&A column in the Sunday magazine and is the paper's resident Downton Abbey expert. View Archive

It is a movie about faith in many ways. Or it’s about a scientific man coming to faith. Some sort of faith, I guess.

You’re grappling with existential questions.

Absolutely. It’s an exploration. It’s the conversation that we would probably have until 6 o’clock in the morning over a bottle of wine, turned into a movie. [Laughs] It is the thing that is most interesting to me. The question of the self and whether there is something beyond just the physics of our life.

When you watch your movie with an audience, are you calm or are you just sick to your stomach?

I get into it. I watched it in Toronto recently, and I was in tears at the end. And I was like, Wait a second, this is weird. I made this movie. I’ve seen it 400 times. Why is this moment doing this to me?

You’re not worried about the audience’s reaction?

No, no. With “Another Earth,” it was pretty divided between people who liked it and people who disliked it. And I just like that people watched it. [Laughs] I mean, they own that opinion. I did take an hour and a half of their lives away from them.

You went to Georgetown, which is not exactly known as a film school.

Right, that is true. But I did have some great professors who taught film in the English department. They opened my eyes to film, to screenwriting. And I still apply what I learned.

Brit Marling has starred in your movies, and you’ve been friends since college. Does being friends make it harder to direct her?

Noooo, it makes it so much easier. We have a shorthand and a trust. I admire acting. Acting is impossible. I don’t know how people act. You have to be vulnerable and authentic and unselfconscious all simultaneously and make people believe. Because we have such trust she can go to far extremes and explore things very safely knowing that, you know, we’ve got each other’s back.

What is your favorite movie?

Can I give you three?

Just one.

“2001: A Space Odyssey.” Because that movie, what it presents to you, can’t be articulated in any other form than as a movie.

More Just Asking

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