[Screen It]


(2014) (Michael Pitt, Brit Marling) (R)

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Sci-Fi/Drama: A scientist tries to disprove religion through his research on the evolution of eyes, only to have his certainty challenged by developments he can't fully explain.
Ian Gray (MICHAEL PITT) is a 26-year-old PhD student who's fascinated with eyes and eyesight. He performs lab experiments on mice regarding that, and is hoping -- with the help of his lab partner/roommate Kenny (STEVEN YEUN), and new lab assistant Karen (BRIT MARLING) -- to prove that the evolution of eyes disproves religion. In particular, he and Karen strive to create eyes in a species that's never had them, something that doesn't sit that well with Ian's girlfriend, Sofi (ASTRID BERGES-FRISBEY), who has a more spiritualistic view of the world.

Years after tragedy takes her away from him, Ian is married, and his first child's eyes are scanned and reveal a startling discovery. Whereas human irises are supposed to be unique to everyone, Ian's son's match those of someone who died several years earlier.

Even more surprising is that Sofi's match those of an orphan girl, Salomina (KASHISH), living on the streets of Delhi. With his strongly held scientific beliefs now in question and wondering if something akin to reincarnation truly exists, Ian travels there, with the hopes that social worker Priya (ARCHIE PANJABI) will help him find the girl and answer the questions behind these discoveries.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
Back when I was a kid, I remember reading something about some criminal who had his hands surgically attached to his sides so that when they were eventually removed -- after grafting together with the skin on his torso -- his fingerprints would no longer be readable. I have no idea if that was true or just some wild tale that went viral long before computers, but I could certainly see the criminal mind coming up with something like that to elude the law.

While the taking, storing and analyzing of fingerprints is still used by law enforcement agencies worldwide -- due to the extremely low odds of any two humans possessing the exact same swirl patterns on their digits -- that's quickly being replaced by iris scans. Not to be confused with retina ones (that read the back of the eye and thus need quite close proximity to a scanner), iris recognition works by scanning -- from a bit more of a distance -- the complex random patterns on the visible surface of people's eyes.

Just like fingerprints, irises are reportedly unique to each and every individual on earth. That fact comes into play in "I Origins," the latest sci-fi drama from writer/director Mike Cahill who made a mini-splash for himself with his 2011 debut, "Another Earth." Also starring Brit Marling (who appears here in a supporting role), that film revolved around the notion of the discovery of a planetary doppelganger and the results of that on humankind and Marling's character in particular.

Here, the double trouble also features something round, but considerably smaller, the human iris. PhD student Ian Grey has long been fascinated with eyes, and beyond working in a lab trying to prove the evolution of such ocular organs and related eyesight (alongside Marling's lab assistant character), he photographs people's eyes and has quite a collection of them. When he spots an alluring set on a masked woman (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) at a Halloween party, that ends in a not-quite-consummated encounter in the public restroom, followed by him then searching for her when just her eyes appear in an ad.

They eventually become a couple, but disagree on the notion of religion, with him being scientific and her equating him to a species of blind worms that have no knowledge of light or seeing as they've never been so equipped to experience that. If he's not been physically outfitted to experience God, he's just as blind and ignorant as the worms.

Tragedy then strikes, years pass, and Ian ends up as a new father. To his surprise, some discoveries regarding irises start to make him question his stance as it appears some degree of reincarnation might just be in play. He then sets out to test that very notion, a journey that leads him abroad and into the company of a young orphan girl (an alluring Kashish) who might just possess the answer he's after.

It's all interesting and intriguing material, and there are some fascinating and even powerful moments scattered through the film's 107-some minute runtime. Yet, Cahill doesn't quite seem to have a firm grip on his storytelling narrative, especially in terms of building momentum, moving things forward in an economical fashion, or keeping the thematic balls up in the air and in clear sight, so to speak, throughout the offering.

I generally like films that operate in the grayness of life, theme and story rather than pressing their pure black or white agenda (or that pretend to be going down the middle only to later reveal their true, singular colors). This one does just that (and allows those on both sides of the argument to have their cake and eat it too), and for that I give the filmmaker props for maintaining some degree of nebulousness and post-viewing discussion.

I just wish the offering was more crystal clear in its narrative delivery and maintaining and building on its dramatic and thematic suspense. It's a little bit of a disappointment in terms of not fully living up to its potential, but "I Origins" is still intriguing enough to warrant a 5.5 out of 10 rating.

Reviewed July 8, 2014 / Posted July 25, 2014

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