I Origins follows the life of Dr. Ian Gray (Michael Pitt), a molecular biologist and geneticist living in New York. He is fascinated by eyes, and bases his research around them, as well as taking photographs of people’s eyes as a hobby. At a Halloween party one night, he runs into a girl with the most unusual eyes he’s ever seen, and after photographing them they nearly have a spur of the moment hook-up, which Ian backs out of at the last second. Despite this, he eventually meets the woman again through a chain of bizarre coincidences, discovers that her name is Sofi (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), and quickly falls in love with her. Although he is a man of science and Sofi is a woman of strong faith, they seem made for each other.
Now at this point I will stop, because I don’t want to spoil anything for you. However, while the first half of the film is a love story, the second half is a bit different. Like in his previous film Another Earth, Mike Cahill takes a scientific idea and uses it to talk about something else, as all good science fiction writers do. In Another Earth, he used the concept of parallel universes in order to talk about human choice and the consequences of those choices. In I Origins, he starts with the fact that every human being has a unique set of eyes. It’s like how everyone has a unique fingerprint, and it’s why retina scans work. In this film, it is discovered that certain individuals have retina patterns identical to those of other people (a statistical impossibility), specifically of people who have died. The idea is then that retina patterns are a sort of signature of the soul, and that those who have the same retina signatures of past people are actually reincarnations of those people.
So does the mysticism-science fusion work? I think it does. The first half of the film is a genuinely good romance story, and this is coming from someone who generally doesn’t care for romance films. This first half of the film is mostly carried by Pitt’s and Astrid’s performances, both of which are very pleasant to watch. Both of them have a bit of brooding and existential doubt in them, but not enough to be annoying or pretentious. In addition to Pitt and Astrid, Brit Marling- Cahill’s frequent collaborator- plays a role in this film as Dr. Gray’s lab assistant (you may remember her as the lead in Another Earth). The second half, by contrast, has a genuinely engaging plot line which uses science to talk about faith, in a way. It’s unique and clever, and even if there are moments that stretch the suspension of disbelief, it never quite breaks it. I will admit, there are moments in both sections of the film that feel a bit cliche, but they are only moments, not the film as a whole, which manages to stay authentic the whole way through.
Overall, I believe that I Origins is a genuinely unique and thought-provoking film (which reminds me: make sure to stick around for the after-credits scene). I enjoy toying with the idea that faith and reason are actually two sides of the same coin. I don’t think that science and religion are not so different as either wants to believe, and this film is a great artistic interpretation of that idea. So if you want a thought-provoking film combining both science and spirituality, then I Origins is your film.