I Origins, dir/wr. Mike Cahill, st. Michael Pitt, Brit Marling, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Steven Yeun, Archie Panjabi
Closely echoing the format and formula of Cahill's 2011 meditative Another Earth and even Zal Batmanglij's Sound Of My Voice from the same year (and also starring Marling), I Origins takes another hi-concept hypothesis - this time, that the soul is indeed real and lives on in others as evidenced in matching iris patterns - and wraps it in a beautifully shot and thoughtfully helmed lo-fi feature. Pitt plays student scientist Ian Gray, a man set on discrediting creationists by proving that eyes have evolved and are not part of an intelligent design. At a Halloween party he meets the bewitching and bemasked Sofi (Berges-Frisbey), and flirts and photographs her before she vanishes in the blink of an eye, whisked away by a cab into the night. After fate transpires the pair meet again, they begin a passionate and intense relationship, whilst back at his lab, Ian continues with his research with fellow scientists Karen (Marling) and Kenny (Yeun). Soon, Karen finds the primer she's been looking for, an organism without sight, but with the genetic coding for vision dormant within it. This discovery sets off a linear chain of events that sees Ian travelling halfway around the world to prove his theories. Whilst not as immediately gripping as Another Earth, I Origins isn't any less invested in asking the bigger questions, and like Another Earth, Cahill by now masterfully knows his way around a style that playfully and thoughtfully interpolates different genre elements into a cohesive and visionary whole. It's a shame then that the eminently watchable Marling takes a backseat to Pitt and Berges-Frisbey's story, as at times, Karen's singular drive to hunt through hundreds of thousand of species in search of the elusive eye origin DNA promises an irresistible yet frustratingly unfulfilled storyline that threatens to plausibly locate the science in the science-fiction. As it is, we get the underwritten but often persuasive sentimentality of Ian and Sofi's romance, and their conflict of science over spirituality. For a movie that hinges upon the epic, unsettling hope that loss can be assuaged by the dubious claim of reincarnation, the love story never quite hits home in the way you hope it might, but as a smart piece of cinema with lofty, thematically existential ambition, I Origins is wholly triumphant.