I Origins

Posted by Joel Copling on July 22, 2014

The last half-hour of "I Origins" is what we call a "whopper." A whopper, you will remember, is a story recounted to many gales of laughter, each of them earned because, well, how silly. There is much wrong before the shift into a thriller about the psychic connection between iris patterns, but for a while, this is a film that establishes a considerable goodwill for its characters, including a horrific tragedy that managed to make this viewer's stomach drop into a lower region of the abdomen and an empathy that feels like it comes from real people. Writer/director Mike Cahill seems, however, hellbent on replacing this urgent tale of scientific discovery with an outlandish one.

Ian Gray (Michael Pitt, strong in a role caught in the wind sheers of two worldviews) is a molecular biologist consumed with his work on the evolution of the living eye; he is determined, he says, due to claims by Christians who don't believe the eye could have been created through an evolutionary process, despite clear evidence to the contrary. His new lab partner Karen (Brit Marling), particularly sharp for a first-year, suggests a direction for their experiment to find an inherent gene selected for eye growth, and it is this sets them on the beleaguered course of the final act. Ian, meanwhile, becomes enamored with a particular set of eyes, with whose owner, Sofi (a stunning Astrid Berges-Frisbey) he sparks a meaningful relationship and, later, brief marriage.

Then a tragedy occurs. Years pass. Ian and Karen marry and have a child. All the while, research into the eye evolution falls into the sinister, wrong hands, and a discovery is made that changes everything about Ian and Karen's perception of, well, perception. "I Origins" turns from an affecting character study about the dichotomy between those two worldviews from which Ian must ultimately choose (science vs. spiritualism, a debate established but never developed beyond a few cursory conversations) to an outlandish thriller-of-sorts about the connection between similar iris patterns. It's all very silly, and no amount of solid establishment--or even a particularly effective use of Radiohead's "Motion Picture Soundtrack"--can survive a foundation this akin to a house of cards.

Film Information

Michael Pitt (Ian), Brit Marling (Karen), Astrid Berges-Frisbey (Sofi), Steven Yeun (Kenny), Archie Panjabi (Priya Varma), Cara Seymour (Dr. Simmons), Kashish (Salomina), Venida Evans (Julie Dairy), Crystal Anne Dickinson (Julie Dairy), Ako (Nurse), Christopher and Sebastian Santamaria (Tobias), William Mapother (Darryl Mackenzie).

Directed and written by Mike Cahill.

Rated R (sexuality/nudity, language).

113 minutes.

Released in select cities on July 18, 2014.