I Origins is provocative and original, so while it may be less than perfect, it’s not a movie I would or could dismiss. Director Mike Cahill’s screenplay opens on an intriguing note, heads in unexpected directions, and meanders a bit before bringing its story full circle. Whatever its flaws, there aren’t many serious movies that deal with science and spirituality in an entertaining way, as this one does.
Michael Pitt is well cast as a research scientist who is preoccupied with the individuality of people’s eyes. He photographs almost everyone he meets and keeps a running file of these close-up pictures. But when he shoots a sexy woman at a Halloween costume party and she runs off before he can learn her identity, he becomes obsessed with tracking her down. This opens the next chapter of the story, which I would rather not reveal. Brit Marling (who co-wrote Cahill’s last film, Another Earth) plays Pitt’s super-smart lab assistant, who shares his fervor and takes their research to a higher level—one where, it might be said, the two of them are playing God.
As scientists, Pitt and Marling are concerned with proofs and hard evidence, but through a series of events they are forced to confront the possibility that, as lyricist Alan Jay Lerner once wrote, “There’s more to us than surgeons can remove.”
I Origins unfolds at a deliberate pace and, to its credit, doesn’t telegraph its ideas. Despite his quiet demeanor, Pitt is an empathetic figure, and we share his feelings of triumph, frustration and anguish—albeit at arm’s length. But when an anomaly presents itself and he begins to follow its circuitous trail, the movie tries our patience. I admire Cahill’s avoidance of the obvious, but I also felt myself losing interest for a spell. The story’s punch line helps make up for that, but here, too, the filmmaker wants to dodge a conventional “big finish.” To that point I would say: sometimes, giving an audience what it wants, or needs, is not such a bad idea.