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Marina Antunes [Celluloid 07.24.14] scifi drama

There's a lot to love about Mike Cahill's sophomore feature I Origins. The follow-up to the enormously successful Another Earth (review) is exactly the kind of project we might expect from a filmmaker that has an obvious fascination with science and the human spirit and even more than his debut, I Origins explores the fine line between science and spirituality.

Michael Pitt jumps back into the movies after a successful TV run (most recently and notably as Mason Verger on NBC's "Hannibal") and stars here as Ian, a brilliant molecular biologist captivated by the eye. His research involves tracking the evolution of the eye in an effort to disprove the intelligent design debaters.

There's a bit of plotting that leads us a few years into the future when Karen (Cahill's breakout partner Brit Marling) and Ian, married and with a baby, discover the impossible: retinal scans are returning multiple individuals with the same eye signatures. The discovery suggests that Ian and Karen's discovery might not hold all of the answers and perhaps there's more to the eye that is unexplainable by science.

To test their hypothesis Ian, who used to photograph the eyes of everyone he met, searches the database and after a few tries, gets a match. The same eye pattern of a long dead individual brings up a match in, of all places, India. Hungry for answers, Ian heads to India in search of the individual with the familiar eyes.

It's rather amazing how much story there is in I Origins. The movie is clearly divided into two, arguably three, separate chapters, each of which has its own bit of drama and theme that feeds into the central thesis. The first is all about love and loss with Ian falling in love for the first time. The second sees him marry Karen but there is something a little off about their relationship which seems almost puritanical. The third chapter focuses on Ian's struggle to find closure. There are interesting moments in all three but I found the India chapter the most effective, partly because it reveals more about Ian and the kind of man he is than any of the other chapters. Until his arrival in India, it almost feels like he's walking through the motions but there's a desperation to his search that sparks emotion in him that is missing from his very business-like relationship with Karen.

There aren't many actors who could pull off Ian and his various stages of development but Pitt beautifully fills the role. There's a kinetic energy to the young and reckless scientist in the movie's first act and that seems all but gone in the second to be replaced by a calm and demure gentleman but there's a hint in a few scenes that the wild child is still buried somewhere deep inside and that wildness comes out, though with a different energy, in the movie's final chapter. Pitt's carefully measured performance adds to I Origins's success.

I found parts of I Origins a bit ham fisted (there's a particular story element in the movie's final act that drives me nuts) but overall, the good far outweigh any of the movie's faults. It's not quite as polished or contemplative as Another Earth but it's a damned fine bit of entertainment that explores some bigger questions. Cahill is no one hit wonder.

I Origins expands to more markets on Friday, July 25.

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