I Origins
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In 2011, indie director Mike Cahill offered audiences a mix of drama and science-fiction in his debut feature, Another Earth. For the follow-up, I Origins, he poses yet another what if scenario, blending scientific and spiritual elements to create a quietly captivating film.

I Origins explores the old saying, “The eyes are the windows to the soul.” Ever since he was a child, Dr. Ian Gray (Michael Pitt) has been obsessed with eyes—and with the religious notion that the intricacies of the eyes prove the existence of a higher power. As a scientist, he’s devoted his career to studying eyes—and using them to disprove religion—and he and his lab assistant, Karen (Brit Marling), finally appear to be close to a breakthrough.

But all of Ian’s beliefs (or lack of beliefs) are called into question by a beautiful and highly spiritual woman with striking eyes.

Like Another Earth, I Origins is far from the typical sci-fi movie. It isn’t a mainstream thriller, with A-list stars racing against time to stop some kind of overblown scientific catastrophe. Instead, it’s a thoughtful drama, touching on tricky topics like spirituality, evolution, and ethics while developing characters and relationships and personal conflicts. It’s an independent film—and, as such, it’s slower and more deliberate than the typical big-budget release. On one hand, that means that it sometimes gives itself over to moodiness and pretense. But that also means that it can take a little more time to be artistic, playing with light and focus and imagery to tell the story on multiple levels.

At the same time, the relatively unknown cast seems to work in the film’s favor. Brit Marling has done a number of indie films—and Michael Pitt has had several roles as well—but you won’t find any high-profile actors here. While that may not bring audiences out in droves, the lack of big-name distractions helps to keep the focus on the story.

That story, meanwhile, is an interesting and challenging one, using the latest technology to tackle an age-old theme: the ongoing battle between science and religion. While the characters begin the story solidly on one side or the other, their experiences and observations open up a lot of gray areas, which will leave viewers with plenty to digest (and debate) after leaving the theater.

Of course, the film also has its share of inconsistencies and head-scratching moments, with characters sometimes acting in ways that seem entirely unlikely—or strangely extreme. But the down-to-earth cast and thought-provoking possibilities help to balance out the film’s flaws.

It may not have aliens or explosions or Brad Pitt, but I Origins is still a fascinating sci-fi film. If you’re prepared for the slower pace and the more artistic tone, you’ll be in for a smart and generally satisfying movie-going experience.

Listen to the audio review on Reel Discovery:

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