I, ORIGINS. Starring Michael Pitt, Brit Marling, Astrid Burges-Frisby. Directed by Mike Cahill. Rated M (Sex scenes, Nudity, Coarse Language). 112 minutes.
The look of this title is better than what the film might have been called, perhaps should have been called, ‘Eye, Origins’. From the very start, the camera focuses in close-up on an eye, inviting the audience to contemplate the eye and its complexities, the wonder of its creation – or, from the point of view of the central character, Ian, the wonder of its evolution.
It should be said from the outset that this film offers a great deal for audiences to think about and reflect on, especially if they are interested in questions of religion and science. Ultimately, the science group, especially if they are of the atheistic or agnostic persuasion (and we glimpse Ian clutching a book by Richard Dawkins at one stage), may not be convinced by the religious suggestions. Those interested in more transcendent questions should be satisfied, even if the questions are not fully, or to a lesser extent, answered.
We are introduced to Ian in 2006, conducting experiments that might lead to mice and other animals gaining colour sight. Ian is on s a cientific quest to try to find some creature that started its life without sight but which evolved an eye. He is given in assistant, Karen (Brit Marling), who is no mean scientist in herself. She promises to examine the development of many creatures who have not had the power of sight and find one so that experiments can be done, giving sight to the blind. In fact, she does find a worm which is a suitable subject for the experiments.
In the meantime, taking some time off from the laboratory, Ian goes to a party where he is attracted to a woman who is wearing something like a Burkha and is attracted by her eyes, asking if he could photograph them. After a brisk and brusque sexual encounter, she disappears. But Ian finds her face on a billboard advertisement, googles and tracks her down. She is from Latin America, has had a chequered life story, but is attracted to Ian and he to her. They plan a sudden marriage but the bureau requires them to have more documentation. And, in the meantime, Karen rings with the news of what she has discovered. To not give away a surprising development of the plot, it can be simply said that something very drastic happens.
And then a shift to 2012-2013, with the Ian, a celebrity, appearing on television, commended for his scientific breakthroughs.
We also see that he has married Karen and she is pregnant. When the child is born, an expert suggests that the boy might be autistic and does several tests, including eye tests where the attention of the child goes to alternative photos, opting for one. The parents have been told, computerwise, that their child has the identical eyes of an elderly man from Idaho.
This presents Ian and Karen with different challenges. Karen, is far more open (as was Sofia) to explanations beyond the accurately scientific. For Ian, this is anathema. They try to find out if there are other examples of identical eyes – only to discover in the eye computer register that a girl in India whose eyes are exactly the same as Sofia’s.
Karen urges Ian to go to India, to find the girl, to investigate and to see whether such a thing is possible, the same patterning, suggestions of reincarnation. Ian puts up a huge billboard in Delhi and receives many unlikely callers, only to find the little girl and to do some tests with her, the results of which Karen accurately tables and Ian, left bemused and puzzled by the exact likeness of eyes, which, scientifically, should not happen.
And that is where the film ends, sharing the experiences, pondering the scientific, pondering the possibilities of God or something transcendent As Sophia has said the worm that cannot see is still surrounded by light which it cannot see but might come to see. Humans may be surrounded by God or a transcendent presence which they cannot see, but could - or might - some day.
Out now Melbourne, other states to follow.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting