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I Origins

Canadian Premiere
  • USA
  • 2014
  • 116 mins
  • DCP
  • English
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Official Selection, Sundance 2014
Official Selection, San Francisco International Film Festival 2014

“Bracingly venturesome... achieves an exceptional balance between the emotional and intellectual” - Todd McCarthy, HOLLYWOOD REPORTER

What if the human eye was a window not into the soul, but into a plane of inquiry that tilts the ongoing conflict of science vs. spirituality in favor of the former? That’s the side where molecular biologist Dr. Ian Grey (Michael Pitt) already resides, and he has been channeling his lifelong obsession with our orbs into research that will prove they evolved naturally, not due to the intelligent design of an omnipotent creator. While his new research assistant, Karen (Brit Marling), begins pursuing a promising and more active new direction in this subject — attempting to genetically provide eyes to sightless organisms — Ian becomes fascinated with a particular pair of peepers: those belonging to Sofi (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), a mysterious beauty he meets at a party.

Following their heated assignation in a bathroom, Sofi vanishes, but a series of signs and chance encounters leads him back to her. Is there, in fact, a greater force of destiny that has brought the agnostic Ian together with his soulmate? A series of subsequent developments will challenge Ian’s perceptions and take him on a journey across borders — between countries, and between the physical and the metaphysical.

In his sophomore effort after the Sundance hit ANOTHER EARTH, writer/director Mike Cahill reteams with Marling for a science-fiction drama in which the science is truly crucial to the drama. Tackling Big Ideas through the accumulation of intimate details, he spins an emotionally wide-ranging story that encompasses love, religion, ambition, tragedy and interconnection among the human species, all focused through the prism of Ian’s character. There’s a lot to challenge the brain here, but this is no chilly intellectual exercise; Cahill targets the heart as well, with the passion between Ian and Sofi at the forefront and parental devotion coming into play in the movie’s second half as well.

A true independent in its spirit and concerns, I ORIGINS is also a remarkable work of visual craftsmanship on its modest budget. In locations and situations both ordinary and extraordinary, Cahill and cinematographer Markus Forderer elicit a palpable atmosphere of everyday reality in which greater forces are plausibly at work, and in which — pardon the expression — there’s more going on than meets the eye. The filmmaker also gets topnotch work out of his cast, with Pitt compellingly driven and Marling and Berges-Frisbey each in fine form as women who become equally important in his life, yet in very different ways.

— Michael Gingold