Movie Review: In ‘I Origins,’ science reluctantly looks faith in the eye

There’s something in your eye. . .  Michael Pitt and Astrid Bergès-Frisbey in
There’s something in your eye. . . Michael Pitt and Astrid Bergès-Frisbey in "I Origins."

“I Origins”
★★★

Its artsy conflict between science and faith is more than a little pretentious at times, but “I Origins” is still strangely satisfying. Partly because it’s a movie about ideas, however shaky they may be, and partly because its conclusions are ultimately hopeful.

Who couldn’t use a little hopefulness now and then?

After his 2011 debut with the similarly portentous “Another Earth,” writer/director Mike Cahill continues to question complacent ideas about mankind’s place in the universe. His Dr. Ian Gray (Michael Pitt) is a somber, pouty, eyeball-obsessed molecular biologist working on a cure for color blindness and simultaneously hoping to disprove the theory of intelligent design — which holds that the eye is such an unfathomable marvel it must be the work of a divine creator.

All his life, Ian has photographed close-ups of people’s pupils, so it’s not surprising that he’s attracted to the gold-flecked irises of a masked mystery woman he meets at a Halloween party. Or that he falls in love after a brief, sensual encounter and does his best to find her after she runs away leaving no clue to her identity But it’s a feat he eventually accomplishes thanks to a fateful helping hand from the universe.

Soon he’s deeply involved in a love affair with Sophie (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey), a mystically inclined fashion model who believes they are soul mates from past lives, and a romantic triangle of sorts with his similarly pragmatic lab partner Karen (Brit Marling, the co-writer and star of “Another Earth”). However tragedy sets the stage for an eventual, long-in-coming major reappraisal of their scientific positions.

Some of Cahill’s New Agey dialogue is wince-worthy (“Maybe the eyes really are some kind of window to the soul”) and it doesn’t help that Ian is basically an arrogant, condescending jerk. But there are some impressive things going on here, notably a handful of arrestingly stylish visual flourishes. “I Origins” looks great throughout, even if it doesn’t always see clearly.

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