‘I Origins’

Casey St. Charnez - August 5, 2014

'A clumsy title that’s going to kill this fine flick at the box-office'

Rarely do I go to a new movie on opening day, much less to the first matinee. Too likely to run into too many people who know me, the ones who simply have to be the first person to see it because that’s the cool thing to do.

But I made an exception for the engrossing metaphysical adventure I Origins, and hit the 1:15pm show last Friday at the Regal DeVargas 6.

Glad I went, too, as there were only eight attendees in Cinema 6, one of the four sad monaural mini-theaters. Everybody else had gone to A Most Wanted Man or And So It Goes in the two big stereo auditoriums.

Couldn’t wait for this one, though, as I Origins (a clumsy title that’s going to kill this fine flick at the box-office) is the new one by writer-director Mike Cahill, creator of Another Earth (2011), a piece of quiet science-fiction I had liked quite a lot.

It stars Michael Pitt (a New Jersey-born young actor also known for The Dreamers and the U.S. remake of Funny Games), as Ian, a molecular biologist researching the evolution of the eye from its primitive iterations through the sophisticated 12-part human oculus. His lab assistant, Karen, is the always interesting Brit Marling (who starred in and wrote Another Earth, and who was also the eco-terrorist in The East, Richard Gere’s daughter in Arbitrage, and the messianic cult leader in the The Sound of My Voice). Together Ian and Karen are researching the possibility of growing  eyes in animals, like certain worms, that are not designed to see.       

Meanwhile he has gotten all involved with the mysterious, exotic Sofi (Barcelona’s extravagantly named Astrid Bergés-Frisbey, who had the title role in 2011’s The Well-Digger’s Daughter), her character a nomad born in Argentina, raised in Paris, and now living in New York City.

Deeply spiritual, currently she sees her life’s mission as trying to bring around a deeply pragmatic scientist who isn’t faith-based in the least.       

Then Sofi dies in a maddeningly arbitrary elevator accident, and Ian plummets into despair, losing himself in more eyeball research.       

Somewhat later, now married to Karen and newly a father, Ian stumbles onto an international effort—not quite a plot or a conspiracy, but nonetheless desperately secretive—involved in iris scanning as an expression of unique identity, a biometric parameter far more reliable than fingerprinting or even DNA mapping. There are billions of retinas in its database.      

At this point, asks the movie, is the individual eye truly one of a kind? What if you were to die and eventually there were someone in the world whose eyes matched yours? Could that be proof of reincarnation?       

And thus Cahill’s film caroms off into a treatise on the possibility of ever-repeating life, built on the Biblical observation that the eyes are the window to the soul or maybe the mirror of the soul (a quasi-accurate paraphrase of the Gospel of Mark). Accordingly, the fourth act spends a half-hour in Delhi, India, as Ian searches for…well, let’s not spoiler alert it.       

Cahill answers his film’s motivating question with a response that is full of wonder, an answer both intellectually stimulating and emotionally satisfying (like Transcendence, for instance). I left feeling good.

By the way, if you’re one of those folks who bolts for the door as soon as the end credits start rolling, you’re doing your brain and your heart a great disservice by not sticking around for the very last scene after the final crew name has scrolled by.     

It’s eye-opening, to say the least.