Director: Mike Cahill
Cast: Michael Pitt, Brit Marling, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey
Watch I Origins online in the UK: iTunes / TalkTalk TV / Amazon Instant Video / Google Play
Scarlett Johansson has dazzled in recent years with her turns in Her, Under the Skin and Lucy, a trilogy of films that has seen her become the unofficial queen of interesting sci-fi. But at the other end of the budget spectrum, another actress has produced her own fascinating trio: Brit Marling.
The star of The East has an earnest quality about her whenever she’s on screen, which challenges any cynicism you may have about her equally earnest movie choices. That nature makes her perfect for science fiction, a genre full of wonder and discovering new possibilities.
That is what I Origins is about: the opening of minds. Michael Pitt plays Dr. Ian Crane, a rationalist who has a thing for eyes. He takes photos of the eyes of whomever he meets, only to be dazzled by a breathtaking pair of balls on a lovely young girl called Sofi (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey). Her Argentine eyes seem to follow him everywhere, even appearing – in one striking scene – on advertising billboards across the city.
Eventually, the two cross paths again and fall retina over heels in love. The one area they disagree? Science. He believes in logic – his main aim in life is to document the evolution of the eyeball, refuting the notion of intelligent design. She believes in anything and everything – while he pores over worms and genes, she hangs photos on her wall of statues in cemeteries that were once said to come to life.
Cahill shoots their relationship with fitful bursts of colour and a heavy dose of swooning sentiment. Thanks to Pitts and Bergès-Frisbey’s wide-eyed sincerity, their romance is engaging to watch, but that’s only the start of I Origins’ story.
Enter Brit Marling as Karen, Ian’s bright lab assistant. Scribbling notes on the window and gazing at the sky, she sees potential for making history – a goal that she starts to reach, thanks to a brave jump forward in time halfway through. That chronological shift takes in emotional trauma, new systems of biometric identification and one particular discovery that leaves Ian questioning everything that has gone before. It’s a sudden change in direction for the movie, one that requires a leap of faith from the viewer – but it’s what marks Mike Cahill as one of the most interesting sci-fi filmmakers around. Just as Another Earth investigated the impact of another Earth without leaving someone’s backyard, I Origins tackles the genre from a different perspective; it’s a film that becomes about the boundary between science and fiction (UIDAI iris identification, a key part of the plot, does actually exist in India), between seeing and believing.
It’s a neat companion piece to the recent (and superior) The Sound of My Voice, which trod a similar path between skepticism and spirituality; one that’s seemingly tailor-made for Marling’s earnest scientist. At almost two hours, I Origins’ meandering structure makes for a long watch, but its slow stacking of evidence and gradual building of emotional investment means that by the time the ending comes, its mysteries stick with you. Like all the best entries in the genre, it takes a long hard look at what makes us human and then asks the simple question: what if?