Michael Pitt stars as Dr. Ian Grey, a molecular biologist specializing in the evolution of the eye. He’s an atheist, a scientist trying to disprove the idea of intelligent design by creating, from scratch, an eye in a sightless creature. Two women in his life represent the polar opposites of his existence, the sensual, exotic Sophia (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) and his lab partner, scientist Karen (Brit Marling). A strange discovery brings both his worlds together, the scientific and the spiritual, but is it a random event or a sign that there is more to iris biometrics than hard data and research?
Director Mike Cahill’s last film, “Another Earth,” was a low-fi, sci fi film that valued ideas over the kind of razzmatazz we’ve come to associate with speculative fiction. The same goes with “I Origins.” It’s a small movie about big ideas. Are the eyes a mechanical device or truly a window to the soul? Can science be used to prove or disprove the presence of God? Can faith and science live side-by-side (Hello Mary Shelly!)?
In that sense the movie is a cypher, which is OK, people have been arguing about these concepts for as long as there have been bibles and test tubes, but while “I Origins” is ambitious in its tackling of life’s great mysteries, the story occasionally goes off track. There are some awkward moents that get on the way of smooth storytelling but overall Cahill keeps things chugging along with sheer audacious and ambitious filmmaking.
Pitt, Marling and Bergès-Frisbey hand in magnetic performances that deepen as the film goes on. With this much metaphysics in the air the actors need to ground the story in humanity and they do.
By the time the end credits roll (and stay through the to the very end for a surprise and surprising scene) the metaphysical love story may have asked many more questions than it could ever hope to answer but answers aren’t the point of the film. Ideas are, and the film has those in spades.