For a little while, I Origins looks good enough and seems deep enough that you think it's actually a good movie. It's clearly a movie in the wake of Shane Carruth's Upstream Color. Director Mike Cahill's previous effort, Another Earth, shares little of I Origin's aesthetic, which can be described as "a friend of a cousin of Terence Malick."
Apparently Cahill thought Upstream Color's fundamental problem was its lack of explaining. Unfortunately, to rectify this, Cahill telegraphs every development in I Origins from about six miles away.
The movie revolves around Ian (Michael Pitt), a grad student with an ocular obsession who's trying to disprove Intelligent Design "once and for all" by showing that eyes can evolve from eyeless animals. One night, at a Halloween party, he meets Sofi, woman wearing a face-mask that covers everything but her eyes (Astrid Berges-Frisbey). They separate at the party, though, and he's sure he'll never see her again.
But a few weeks later, a series of dazzling coincidences reunites the couple, who immediately begin a passionate love affair. (The fact that this "dazzling coincidence" happens amidst a staggering number of elevens (I I, eye-eye) shows the kind of slap-your-forehead obviousness this movie considers "clever.") They stay together until a tragic accident, at which point it's only Ian's lab partner Karen (Brit Marling) who can get Ian back on track to disproving intelligent design.
The drama's focal point is the discovery that children are being born who have exact iris matches with the recently deceased—a question that prompts Ian and co. to speculate about whether this is just a wacky random happenstance, or evidence of something more transcendent in nature. Ian—the avowed atheist ("who might even be, gasp, dogmatic and myopic," the movie relentlessly intones)—comes face-to-face with a spirituality he'd so readily dismissed in his lost love.
Unfortunately, the movie mostly goes about this in such a ham-fisted way that the whole enterprise becomes a bit, well, silly: "silly" being the word I thought of while I was watching the movie, which is strange. There's a lot of non-silly things happening in the movie: jealousy, death, blindness, sexual confusion, and spiritual awakenings consume the latter half of the movie.
But they're put together like a chess player explaining his moves in excruciating detail to someone who's never played the game before. I Origins is pretty convinced that you're dumb, and need to have your hand held through this whole process. (One example of the kind of mega on-the-nose symbolism the movie tends to indulge in: Sofi's tragic passing happens after Ian's eyes have been doused with chemicals, rendering him blind, though he's wearing his glasses over his bandages. See? See? Get it?)
And the film's devolution into latter-half silliness is a real bummer, because the first half contains some fantastic moments, courtesy of all actors involved. Michael Pitt is infinitely more relatable playing a genius loser scientist than he is a Respectable Family Man; similarly, Brit Marling's character is one of the few I've ever encountered who actually loses dimensionality as the film goes on, moving from the layered and insecure Lab Help to a just sort of universally affirming wife, just another cog in the film's plot machine.