Mike Cahill's 2011 Sundance breakthrough, Another Earth, co-written with actress Brit Marling, was all kinds of promising: An ambitious mixture of low-budget science fiction and post-trauma drama, it was more about ideas than special effects. Cahill's new film, I, Origins, takes one step forward – the seductive quicksilver luminosity of Markus Forderer's cinematography – and one giant step back in intellectual credibility.
Michael Pitt stars as Ian, an earnest PhD student who's determined to refute the "intelligent design" advocates' favourite example of God's design, the complexity of the human eye. Ian's plan to foil those creationists is to demonstrate the evolution from blind invertebrates to our own superior peepers.
To assist him, he has a sultry undergraduate researcher, Karen (Marling), who is a devoted lab pal. Their eventual goal is to bring sight to a worm, which I guess is a metaphor.
Initially, though, Ian only has eyes for another woman, a masked sylph he meets at a Halloween party. Mesmerized by her gold-flecked pupils, he tracks her down. Turns out she's a model named Sofi (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) – a free spirit who believes in reincarnation, magic and doing lucrative billboard ads.
Time passes; there's a tragedy, a child born with autism, and Ian's meeting with a mysterious scientist doing experiments on "eye matching" from a giant data bank. Finally, there's a journey to India and enough signs, portents and sudden bursts of intuition for several M. Night Shyamalan movies. Although the film and the actors keep on looking good, this solemn, soppy, fantasy has nothing to say about science or faith.