It begins as a science thriller: Researchers narrow in on absolute proof that the eye evolved in nature. Such confirmation would give the lie to creationists who sometimes use the complexity of the eye as evidence for an “intelligent designer,” which is another way of saying God.
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