I Origins is a small movie with extra-large ambitions: a globe-spanning faith-vs.-science thriller/French New Wave-style romance/metaphysical tease on a Sundance budget. If that sounds more than a little pretentious, it is. It’s also strangely affecting.
Dr. Ian Gray (Boardwalk Empire’s Michael Pitt) is a young molecular biologist whose fascination with the human eye extends outside his work hours; when he meets a masked beauty (Ástrid Bergès-Frisbey) at a Halloween party, he’s as taken with her gold-flecked irises as he is with her smoky pan-European accent and enthusiasm for spontaneous bathroom sex. While the doctor and his manic-pixie gamine tumble into a Truffaut-worthy love affair, his research assistant (Brit Marling, always the cool, cerebral blonde) is in her own kind of rapture in the lab, closing in on a breakthrough. Then tragedy swoops in — and that’s when Origins takes a leap viewers may or may not follow, depending on their willingness to believe (and, more practically, on their working knowledge of ophthalmology).
Writer-director Mike Cahill, who also helmed 2011’s divisive sci-fi drama Another Earth, stumbles sometimes: Lines like ”Maybe the eyes really are some kind of window to the soul” come off as clunky as they sound. Still, as the movie travels from New York to Idaho to India, nimbly slinging itself over gaps in likelihood and logic, it works its own sort of magic. After all, who doesn’t want to believe that the soul does have a window, and that if it closes we might open it again? B