Ian Gray (Michael Pitt), the protagonist of I Origins, is a biologist and specialist in eye evolution who is trying to disprove the existence of God. With the help of his lab assistant, med student Karen (Brit Marling), Ian is conducting a series of experiments that would prove, under the proper conditions, worms born without eyes could be mutated into developing sight. His girlfriend, a billboard model Sofi (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) with multi-colored eyes, warns him about the dangers of playing God. But Ian is a man of science, and his research convinces him he’s heading in the right direction.
I Origins is the second film by director Mike Cahill (his first, the speculative parallel-universe saga Another Earth, also starred Marling) and the movie marks a huge leap in ambition and technique, dealing in complex concepts about creation, individuality and the use of ocular identification as a form of identification (no two people have identical irises). The style has increased tenfold — appropriate for a movie about vision, this is a beautiful-looking film — and the performances are stronger, with Pitt making for a likable not-so-mad scientist and the stunning Berges-Frisbey doing more than usual with the role of the accessory girlfriend.
But then something happens that sends I Origins spinning in a different direction, exploring the possibilities of reincarnation and causing Ian to begin to doubt his lack of spiritual faith. Ironically, as the picture leaves the realm of science behind for something more mysterious and unknown, the story loses its grip. Instead of feeling the rush Ian feels as he verges on the edge of a discovery that will change his world-view, you sit there wondering when the picture is going to get to its telegraphed ending.
Stories about scientists doubting what they know to be true — Contact, for example — can be provocative and engaging, on an intellectual and emotional level. But I Origins challenges too little and ties up things too neatly for it to register as anything more than well-made, well-intentioned hogwash.
Cast: Michael Pitt, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Brit Marling, Steven Yeun.
Writer-director: Mike Cahill.
A Fox Searchlight Pictures release. Running time: 107 minutes. Vulgar language, nudity, sexual situations, adult themes. In Miami-Dade: Aventura, South Beach, Sunset Place; in Palm Beach: Marketplace, Delray, Parisian, Shadowood.