I Origins (opening today) is the sort of intellectual science-fiction that doesn't use the genre as an excuse for massive space chases or alien invasions. It is more of a psychological thriller that tries to balance more on the side of science than the side of fiction. When films like this feel plausible, they can be very effective, opening up our mind to the strange possibilities that exist right here in our own world. The danger is in keeping them in line with common logic. I Origins requires way too many leaps of faith, where our belief in what is happening is suspended to the point of absurdity.
Michael Pitt (Jimmy Darmody on HBO's Boardwalk Empire) plays a young grad student named Ian. He is fascinated with the human eye, having snapped photos of hundred upon hundreds of subjects. He is researching human eyes along with his partner Karen (Brit Marling) and assistant Kenny (Steven Yeun, Glen from AMC's The Walking Dead). One night at a Halloween party, Ian becomes smitten with a young woman, Sofi (Astrid Berges-Frisbey). He doesn't get her number, but he then sees her distinct eyes on a billboard and decides to track her down.
Where the story goes specifically from here is not worth revealing, should you choose to see the movie yourself. But there is plenty of "science vs. religion" and "faith vs reason" dialogue amongst the many characters, all of whom drift through the movie without much emotion. It's as if the movie itself is so seriously contemplating the very meaning of life, that it forgets to unclench its teeth.
A pretty gruesome event takes place at about the film's mid-point (no pun intended) and that's where the film goes from provocative to pretentious. Many things happen in the film that are based on mere coincidence, or just don't make any sense even within the film's own logic. You will probably be able to pick up on many of them without me listing them for you here and spoiling any potential plot points.
It was great to see the talented Michael Pitt take the lead, as he is surely a gifted actor who has "that thing" about him that makes you believe he will be a huge star one of these days. But this film and this role in particular doesn't give him much stage to show off on. The rest of the film's stars, including Berges-Frisbey, aren't real people, most of them spouting nonsensical dialogue and existing merely to move things along.
Tonally, this film is very similar to writer/director Mike Cahill's last movie, Another Earth, which I also found to be mostly a bore. Both films were effective in creating mood, but limited in creating real drama.
I Origins may appeal to those who consider themselves highbrow science fiction fans, looking for less escapism and more mental submersion. But that's the film's flaw: Anybody with a brain and a pair of eyes can see the gaping holes that exist within the framework of this high-concept dud.
Genre: Drama, Science Fiction
Run Time: 1 hour 37 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Michael Pitt, Brit Marling, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Steven Yeun
Written & Directed by Mike Cahill (Another Earth)
Opens locally on Friday, Aug 8, 2014 (check for show times).
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How to read Tom Santilli's "Star Ratings:"
- 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
- 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
- 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
- 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
- 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time