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I-origins-2“I ORIGINS” My rating: C (Opening July 25 at the Tivoli and Glenwood Arts)

113 minutes | MPAA rating: R

The temptation is to dismiss “I Origins” as an inscrutable mess. Except that it has been made with enough care and intelligence to make a reasonable viewer wonder if he/she hasn’t somehow missed the point.

At least  I certainly missed the point.

The latest from Mike Cahill — who in 2011 gave us a small classic of thinking-person’s sci-fi in “Another Earth” — is a sort of metaphysical science story. It seems initially like one of those yarns in which an atheistic scientist finds his beliefs (or lack thereof) rocked by his discoveries. But the film is so emotionally remote that the payoff never materializes.

Michael Pitt (HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire”) is Ian, a molecular biologist  doing research on the origins of the human eye.  Ian has little use for religion and is irritated by the argument offered by some Christian apologists that evolution cannot account for the complexity of the human eye, that this can only be explained by a creator.

To that end Ian and his nerdy/hot research assistant, Karen (regular Cahill collaborator Brit Marling), are trying to identify some species of blind animal — probably a worm or other primitive — which they can subject to gene therapy.  The idea is to grow functioning eyes where there were none.

As mad scientist plots go, this is pretty low keyed…and it doesn’t help that Cahill’s dialogue is crammed with long, scientific ruminations.

Happily, there is more going on in Ian’s life than just research.  Not only are eyes the focus of his work, they’re a longtime personal passion. For years he has been photographing close-ups of people’s eyes. He has books full of these snapshots.

One night at a Halloween party he falls for a masked woman. She won’t reveal her face, but does allow Ian to photograph her eyes.

*** and Michael Pitt

*** and Michael Pitt

And then he’s thrown for a loop when he spots those very same eyes on a huge billboard — this discovery takes place in a single complex zoom/tracking shot right out of Hitchcock or Spielberg. The eyes belong to a gamine-ish young model, Sofi (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) and, by happy coincidence (or divine intervention), Ian spots her on the subway.  Despite Sofi’s loopy metaphysical pronouncements — hey, did you know that white peacocks embody the universal soul? — they become lovers. They plan to wed.

And then…let’s just say it doesn’t work out.

Years pass.  Now Ian is married to his former assistant Karen. They have an infant son, and when the kid is put through eye recognition registration, it is revealed that his eyes are virtually identical to the late operator of  cattle ranch Out West as well as to a homeless child in India.

Brit Marling

Brit Marling

Are we talking reincarnation?  Damned if I know. The movie is so muddled that it’s impossible to draw a straight line from A to B.

In any case, Ian goes to India to search out the child, a little girl (Kashish) with eyes as deep and old as the ocean. Haven’t you heard? The eyes are the window to the soul.

Along the way we’re treated to appearances by Archie Panjabi (of TV’s “The Good Wife”) as an Indian welfare worker and William Mapother (the co-star of “Another Earth”) as a vaguely sinister Christian business man Ian encounters in his hotel.

Cahill does some very interesting stuff with reflections — in windows, in eyes, on the surfaces of cars. And he even drops a reference to the famous National Geographic cover photo of beautiful blue-eyed Afghan girl that is echoed in Ian’s discovery of the Indian child..

But in the end “I Origins”  (think “Eye Origins”) is a kitchen sink movie, with so many ideas being furiously thrown at us that nothing is able to stick.

| Robert W. Butler

 

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