Dr. Ian Gray (Michael Pitt) is a molecular biologist who is researching his theory on the evolution of the human eye. The scientist is obsessed with what spiritualists call the “windows into the soul.” He photographs every pair of eyes he can when he meets a mysterious woman whose eyes he cannot get out of his mind. This triggers a search for those eyes and research that may well proves Ian’s theory in “I Origins.”
Writer-director Mike Cahill creates a (sort of) science fiction, science versus religion story with the eyes, excuse the pun, the focus of “I Origins.” Ian believes that the every pair of eyes has a pattern and that pattern has biometric match with others, linking them together. His research, though, is to create the eye from scratch, with the help of his post-grad school assistant, Karen (Brit Marling). This part is interesting in its concept.
Not so interesting is the relationship between Ian and the mystery woman, Sofi (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), whose eyes possess him. When he sees those eyes on a giant billboard, he begins, in almost stocker-like fashion, a search for her. They meet, fall in love and marry and life is idyllic for the young couple until it ends in tragedy. I was more interested in “I Origins” when it returns to the laboratory and its science.
This is a play in three acts: act one with Sofi, act two delving into ocular science with his soon-to-be second wife, Karen and act three the finale, where Ian journeys to India to investigate an inexplicable match with his dead wife’s eyes. This part involves a young Indian girl – the possible match – whom Ian takes, alone, to his hotel room to ask her questions. The image of Ian walking hand in hand down the hallway to his room has a major creepiness factor in this world aware of child abuse. The filmmakers could have resolved this rather easily, making me think that they did not even consider this image in any way negative. If so, I disagree - strongly.
Parts of this romantic science fiction story are undeniably interesting. Others require a strong suspension of disbelief and even then I was scratching my head. The problem is, I think, in Cahill’s too many threads script that fails to tie up all their loose ends. I give it a C+.
Molecular biologist Ian Gray (Michael Pitt, "Last Days," "Rob the Mob") is studying the eye in an effort to refute those who believe that its unique complexity cannot be explained by evolution, but it is his new research assistant, Karen (Brit Marling, "Another Earth"), who comes up with the idea of finding a sightless creature with the PAX6 gene necessary for eye development. But as she wades through mountains of data, Ian finds the mysterious woman, Sofi (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides"), whose multi-colored eyes seduced him at a party, a free spirit with a strong belief in spirituality. Years after her sudden, tragic loss, a weird occurrence involving his and Karen's newborn's eye scan leads him to India, where another child's iris appears to match Sofi's in "I Origin."
Writer/director Mike Cahill's ("Another Earth") sophomore work oddly parallels Brit Marling's other filmmaker collaborator Zal Batmanglij's first, "Sound of My Voice," in which a pair of documentary filmmakers attempt to debunk a cult leader only to find themselves questioning their own beliefs. Both that film and Cahill's first were far better efforts than this one, not only because of a feeling of having been down this road before, but its underdevelopment, a poorly staged accident, obvious twist and the thoroughly skin-crawling scene of a white American adult male bringing a homeless Indian girl up to his hotel room unchallenged, something the filmmaker fails to address.
The film begins well, a sexy, romantic mystery as Ian first spies Sofi, attired as a bird. He asks if he may photograph her eyes. Their encounter leads to sex, but she speeds off in a taxi without even having told him her name. Haunted, Ian begins to notice that one morning every number he encounters, from his cigarette purchase to his powerball ticket to his bus number is an eleven. Following the signs, he comes across a billboard for Devonne Paris, those mysterious eyes its main feature ("Great Gatsby!"). Tracking the model down, he finds Sofi, who tells him she was sending him signals (a provocative idea that is promptly dropped throughout the rest of the film).
Sofi is into the spirit world, a statue that appears to have real eyes, white peacocks and strawberry Mentos and she questions why Ian is trying to disprove God. Ian counters that God has never been proven. After a symbolic accident where Ian's eyes are splashed with hydrochloric acid, another follows with more final, fatal results, his impaired sight a possible contributing factor (an indie budget can forgive much, but the latter is laughable in its execution). Years later, the now successful married scientific team of Ian and Karen agree to an eye scan for their newborn. The first scan brings up the record of one Paul Edgar Dairy. The nurse fluffs it away as a malfunction, succeeding on the second try. Later the Grays get a call from Dr. Jane Simmons (Cara Seymour, "An Education"), a Yale researcher who says she'd like to test their child for a possible indication of autism. She shows the child a series of side by side pictures to see which is responded to. It's easy to see where all this is heading.
But do the Grays question Simmons? No, instead they begin their own research, looking for matches - which should not exist - with Ian's collection of eye photographs against an eye scan database Ian's lab partner Kenny (Steven Yeun, AMC's 'The Walking Dead') has access to.
The actors are not to be faulted here - they're committed and the three leads, at least, create three disparate people, Pitt the conflicted (if dreamy) scientist, Marling the committed researcher whose attraction to her boss is there for the observant eye to see, Bergès-Frisbey this film's version of the manic pixie dream girl. Archie Panjabi (TV's 'The Good Wife') plays an Indian social worker who aids Ian in his search for Salomina (Kashish), the little girl with multi-colored eyes. But what is "Another Earth" star William Mapother doing here as a man met twice at a hotel elevator? There's no rationale for his inclusion. The filmmaker also never goes out of his way to explain the reason why creationists point to the eye as proof of intelligent design. Ian's initial trip to investigate the results of his own child's test results is too coincidental by half, a Boise diner waitress referring him to a dairy farm as an area attraction. The production, that fatal accident excepted, looks lavish.
"I Origins" is a bunch of mumbo jumbo parading as deep thought, a concept in search of a movie. It may look pretty, but it's also pretty shallow.
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