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Friday, 25 July 2014 00:00

"I Origins" studies the eyes and the I + Video

"I Origins" studies the eyes and the I	www.sundance.org
Written by Diane Carson
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"I Origins" requires and rewards patience. Screenwriter/director Mike Cahill takes a scientific premise and pursues it as a serious interrogation. This fits the central, systematic research into the origins of the visual eye, the title complementing this with I, the first person pronoun, thereby suggesting finding the source of one, the physical eye, reveals critical insight into the other.

As with science, Cahill doesn't rush Ian, his central character, a genetic researcher focused on the unique signature of each eye. He and his new lab assistant Karen attempt to manipulate DNA to construct the genesis of an eye giving previously blind worms sight. Meantime, Ian becomes intrigued by and, soon, enamored of an elusive woman named Sofi whose eyes captivate him. Ian has hundreds of photographs of eyes and contributes to a databank of scanned images.

Complications and tragedy intrude as the plot develops, jumping back in time and then forward again. Cahill establishes an appropriately dreamlike aura as he edits montages of events, effectively suggesting more than he shows. Cinematographer Markus Förderer uses a soft focus in many scenes to effect this ambiance, as he relies heavily on close-ups. Often without any added sound, the concentration on the characters and their interactions take center stage. When industrial sound is used, it's particularly effective.

As Ian, Michael Pitt delivers a strong, reserved performance. By contrast, Sofi, played by Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, conveys a lot of energy. Brit Marling as Karen, the genetics lab assistant, is the most surprising and atypical for several reasons. She models an analytical, perceptive, and intelligent approach to all the complications. Not only is it quite unusual for Karen to be a bright, supportive scientist but also she never collapses into the emotional register usually reserved for women. It's as refreshing as it is rare.

Curiously and probably not coincidentally, several contemporary films and television programs consider, in various ways, the issue of science versus some spiritual or inexplicable realm. And, as often happens, the resolution is unsatisfactory as it is in "I Origins." But that's a minor quibble with an engaging film.
At a Landmark Theatre.

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