Directed by Mike Cahill. Starring Michael Pitt, Brit Marling, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Steven Yeun, Archie Panjabi, Cara Seymour, Kashish. (2014, R, 107 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., July 25, 2014
The empirical world and the spiritual world are positioned for a showdown in Mike Cahill’s I Origins, but not before reincarnation is also invited in to spar for a few bonus rounds. In his follow-up to 2011’s Another Earth, writer/director Cahill shows that he’s still grappling with the same themes and pseudoscientific inquiries. Yet I Origins, which Cahill wrote alone (unlike Another Earth, which was co-written with its breakout star Brit Marling, who nevertheless plays a significant role in I Origins), is more plausible and convincing than its predecessor. And even when plausibility fails, I Origins is elegantly cosseted by its dreamy camerawork (courtesy of Markus Förderer) and pretty people.
Michael Pitt is cast against type as molecular biologist Dr. Ian Gray (those eyeglasses rest on his face with the same kind of seriousness panache they bring to Rick Perry). His field of research is the human eye, and the search for eyesight’s original molecule. In the grander scheme of things, Ian believes that his research will put an end to the notion of intelligent design and forever prove evolution’s primacy. Accordingly, Ian is also obsessed with the human eye and its infinite individuation – like fingerprints or snowflakes. It’s this obsession that leads him to Sofi (Bergès-Frisbey) at a NYC costume party, where, by way of introduction, he asks to photograph her eyes. Soon, she darts off abruptly, and the only means Ian has to find her again is through her eyes and a bit of magical thinking.
Indeed, the warrior scientist rediscovers his green-eyed Sofi, and for a while they’re blissfully happy, she countering his empiricism with her mysticism. Meanwhile, back at the lab, Ian’s assistant Karen (Marling) is forging ahead with some breakthrough experiments, which appear to corroborate her boss’ thesis. Then, just as the characters reach their happiest point, sudden tragedy strikes and the film cuts ahead seven years. Now a father and husband, Ian must grapple again with the old dichotomies between heart and mind. This time it’s even more personal, more intuitive and experiential. Evidence of the transmigration of souls may sunder his scientific foundations.
More polished than his debut feature Another Earth, Cahill and his brand of humanist science fiction are destined to appeal most to like-minded souls. Empiricists only need apply if they have a thing for lovely gamines who speak in foreign-accented English (and who doesn’t?), as well as a tolerance for blatantly metaphorical film titles.