I Origins (2014) / Drama-Sci Fi
MPAA Rated: R for some sexuality/nudity, and language
Running Time: 107 min.
Cast: Michael Pitt, Brit Marling, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Steven Yuen, Archie Panjabi, Kashish, William Mapother
Director: Mike Cahill
Screenplay: Mike Cahill
Review published August 11, 2014
Michael Pitt (Seven Psychopaths, The Village) stars as Dr. Ian Gray, a New York-based molecular biologist who specializes in the study of human eyes, something he has been fascinated with his entire life, to the point where he has mapped out the evolution of the eye through various species all the way up through humankind. With the help of his new lab partner Karen (Marling, The East), he's set on developing a major breakthrough to prove that evolution, and not God, is what's responsible for such a sophisticated organ, and to do this, they set about a herculean task to find a species that is blind but that has the ability to be genetically modified to develop one, and perhaps evolve into a seeing species on its own.
While this is going on, Ian's life takes an interesting turn when he gets reacquainted with Sofi (Berges-Frisbey, On Stranger Tides), a mysterious, free-spirited French woman with beautifully exotic eyes that he met while she was still in disguise at a chic Halloween party. It is around this time that he begins to see strange patterns of numbers and symbols, and things not readily explainable by a man of science. With Sofi's spiritual beliefs always countering Ian's hard facts, the two form an unlikely couple, but one that works. But when a tragedy occurs that changes their relationship forever, Ian must confront what he truly believes in.
I Origins is written and directed by Mike Cahill, who follows up his intriguing indie Another Earth which he wrote with I Origins co-star Brit Marling. His subject matter is fairly engrossing, as well as some interesting plot developments and huge ideas, but as a storyteller, Cahill does come up quite a bit short on a number of occasions. For one, it seems ridiculous to assume that some flaky scientist and his first-year lab assistant are going to disprove the existence of God by genetically tampering with a worm. There are far better examples of evolution that occur naturally, and even if this proved anything, there is still the debate of "intelligent design" that continues to exist as religion begins to embrace the notion that life has evolved over many eons. Instead of praise, Ian seems more likely to be criticized for tinkering with nature in the worst scientific fashion.
For such huge ideas, Cahill gets the most out of a relatively low budget, though it must be said that it does look like b-grade material, with less emphasis on quality lighting and film stock. Still, it does surprise from time to time in its design and camera work, so it isn't exactly an eye-sore (no pun intended) by any measure, just dim and drab on occasion.
The main problem with the film is the tendency to use shortcuts to keep the plot moving along. In one instance, the scientists have to fly up to Boise, Idaho to find the source of a mysterious picture a young baby has responded to. The information they spend so much money on to gather in person could have been done so easily in an hour with a Google search and a phone call or email, but that just wouldn't have been 'mystical'. The same could be said about a ridiculous search in India to find the source of eyes Ian feels he has seen before. Astonishgly, he almost immediately meets a woman who recognizes the eyes on sight. How this woman is so astute as to remember eyes and the young girl who possesses them but can't give any clue as to how the girl may be found is one of the film's major contrivances just to try to prolong a climax.
While Cahill's ambitious film falls short in too many important narrative elements for me to give an outright recommendation, if you're at all interested in the subject matter of past lives, spiritual thinking, or the science vs. religion debate, you may still find it quite worthwhile. If not, it's a film that certainly intrigues, but ultimately Cahill's vision is too blurry for most other viewers see much beyond its narrative obviousness.
-- There is an extra scene after the credits.
©2014 Vince Leo