Alas, “I Origins” has more than science on its mind — it wants to pick fruit from “The Tree of Life” and other such exercises in magical hugger-mugger.
Molecular biologist Ian Gray (Michael Pitt, from “Last Days”) and his gifted intern Karen (Brit Marling) do the lab work; meanwhile, the supremely-rational Ian indulges in a whirlwind affair with exotic Sofi (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey).
She has uniquely patterned eyes, European manners, and beaucoup de hotness, so he is forgiven for tossing aside his usual scholarly method. A drastic plot twist jumps us forward seven years, and once again the rationalists are forced to examine their atheistic beliefs — as they so often are in movies.
Although I found all of this to be fundamentally silly, I should say that writer-director Mike Cahill is clearly a talented filmmaker; his debut “Another Earth” was shaky on the sci-fi but genuinely haunting nonetheless. Here, the hothouse world of super-focused scientists is convincing, and the staging of the sequence where Ian re-locates Sofi (through a series of mystical coincidences) is technically accomplished.
Michael Pitt has matured into a leading-man presence, and Marling — the star of “Another Earth” — is fittingly brainy and also lighter and looser than she was in the previous film. If Cahill applied his skills to a movie that didn't strain quite so hard to be significant, he could make a crackling genre picture.
The longer “I Origins” goes on, the more it encourages eye-rolling. Along with its obligatory journey to India and its theological ponderings, the film also presents a sequence with a grown man picking up a child on a foreign street and taking her alone to his hotel room — we know his purposes are innocent, but somebody hasn't thought through the optics here.
And speaking of optics, the title “I Origins” is, I fear, meant to be a pun on “eye,” which reduces the film's metaphysical ideas to a glib play on words. So the movie has the title it deserves.
“I Origins” (2 stars)
Scientists Michael Pitt and Brit Marling search for eye-related evidence that would definitively debunk creationism — an interesting set-up, but director Mike Cahill must drag in some mystical hugger-mugger to give his story significance. On that score, the movie comes up well short, even though it's clearly well made and acted.
Rating: R, for nudity, language
Showing: Sundance Cinemas
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