Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Mike Cahill
Stars: Michael Pitt, Brit Marling, Steven Yuen, Astrid Berges- Frisbey, Archie Panjabi.
Brit Marling’s films all seem to have a deep interest in exploring complex and provocative themes of science, faith, religion, superstition and the environment (Another Earth, The Sound Of My Voice, etc), and her latest film, the punnily titled I Origins, is no exception. It also deals with themes of obsession, love and loss, reincarnation and the clash of cultures.
This thought provoking but slow burn drama also reunites the actress with her Another Earth director Mike Cahill. The pair have worked together for years and have a good understanding and rapport.
The eye may be the window to the soul, but in this beguiling mix of science fiction and romance it is much more. Ian Gray (played by Michael Pitt, from Funny Games, Boardwalk Empire, etc) is a molecular biologist whose research leads him on an amazing journey. An atheist by belief, Ian is working on a theory about evolution, hoping to find evidence to debunk the theory of intelligent design. He is studying the complex organism, the human eye, and is conducting an experiment to prove that the eye has indeed evolved over time. His lab partner is Karen (Marling), a bright first year medical student. Their research assistant Kenny (Steven Yuen, from The Walking Dead, etc) is compiling a catalogue of human eyes to document the uniqueness of the eye as part of a complex and ambitious biometric identification system.
Ian also falls in love with Sofi (Spanish actress Astrid Berges-Frisbey, from Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, etc) who has a more romantic soul, and whose spiritual views clash with Ian’s skeptical nature and rational outlook. But when tragedy strikes it leaves Ian searching for answers and a deeper meaning to existence.
The film then jumps ahead seven years. Ian and Karen are married and have a son of their own. But when they scan his eyes as part of their ongoing project they discover that his scan matches that of a recently deceased African American. This mystery leads Ian on a spiritual journey to India, and a rather startling discovery that lies at the heart of his scientific obsession. In the teeming and heavily populated city of New Delhi he meets Priya (Archie Panjabi, from tv series The Good Wife, etc), a social worker who eventually leads him to a young girl whose eyes are a match for the late Sofi’s.
Pitt is one of those actors who seems to get under the skin of the off beat characters he plays, and he delivers another soulful performance here as the socially awkward, emotionally tortured and obsessive scientist. Marling brings some hidden depth and strength to her lesser role as the practical and hard headed Karen. The pair develop a good on-screen chemistry.
Cahill’s sophomore script unfolds in slow measured fashion and although it explores a number of high tech scientific concepts, he ensures that the audience is not left scratching their heads over the speculative scientific theories espoused here. The film is at times a little oblique as Cahill refuses to spoon feed the audience, and he raises many questions that aren’t easily answered. You have to stick with the film to the end to get the full emotional impact of its ending.
However, I Origins seems less cohesive and accessible than Cahill’s previous film, and it’s narrative less satisfying. Something about it left me a little cold. I Origins is one of those films, like last year’s elusive and oblique Upstream Color, that will divide audiences.