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I Origins

by on July 18, 2014
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Britt Marling and Michael Pitt in I Origins

“I Origins” is a quiet film that says a lot.

An arthouse film that seems to have designs on something more, “Origins” is the brainchild of filmmaker Mike Cahill, whose “Another Earth” dazzled a few years ago, including at the Indy Film Fest (“Origins” is the opening night film at the 2014 Indy Film Fest). This film is similarly ambitious, taking on spirituality and science through the eyes of a scientist trying to disprove the existence of God by using the windows to the soul.

Michael Pitt (TV’s “Boardwalk Empire”) plays Ian Gray, a molecular biologist studying the iris, which is as singular a personal identifier as a fingerprint. Ian doesn’t believe in God or an afterlife and has devoted his life’s work to prove God doesn’t exist, taking on those who say the iris’ unique composition is proof of intelligent design. Ian sets out to map the evolutionary development of the iris to disprove them.

Soon, Ian falls in love with a flighty model (Astrid Berges-Frisby) with a rare eye color and a strong spiritual belief. He loses her tragically, but his work continues.

Years later, Ian’s work progresses with the help of his lab partner-turned-wife Karen (Brit Marling), but he finds something startling: Their newborn son’s iris patterns are identical to someone who has recently died. When they are contacted by a group of doctors covertly searching out and studying those people, Ian and Karen begin to look deeper at what they are searching for.

Why they’re studying these people is something I’m not at liberty to reveal, but suffice it to say the reason you think is only the beginning of the story. Little clue: Stick around after the credits. I’ll say it was a surprising, tantalizing bit of information that I didn’t expect and makes what could have been a minor character in an otherwise quiet film a much bigger player.

The acting is roundly solid. Pitt’s biologist toes the line of emotional trauma and sells its aftereffects well. Steven Yuen, best known as Glenn on “The Walking Dead,” turns in a solid performance as Ian’s best friend and associate.

Cahill’s writing is spotty in places, and the ending comes a little abruptly and feels unsatisfying to a degree. If he is looking to make a sequel (which he certainly could), this could be forgiven easily. It’s not the discussion of spirituality versus science that is important; “Origins” is an arthouse movie that wants what the big-budget blockbuster franchises have: sequels and a larger story.

“I Origins” is a film that is easily misunderstood, and to a degree, perhaps that’s what Cahill is going for. But it’s a rich, engaging film that handles questions of love, loyalty, science and spirituality that asks big questions and lets you give the answers.

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