Filmmaker Mike Cahill returns to science as the basis for his second feature I Origins, which is at once a molecular-biology thriller and a love story. The human eye, which by some has long been considered a "window to the soul," is the springboard for one man's journey in this lauded feature.
Written by Cahill, I Origins tells the story of young Dr. Ian Gray (Michael Pitt), a molecular biologist studying the evolution of the eye. His work permeates his life after a brief encounter with a mysterious woman (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey), whom he loses touch with. Years later, as his research continues, he and his lab partner Karen (Brit Marling) make an incredible discovery that may prove to have a huge impact on both his scientific and spiritual beliefs. He then embarks on a journey to India, risking everything in a quest to validate his theory.
"My favorite people in the world are scientists. My friends are scientists and my brother is a scientist," said Cahill, who will be joined by Marling at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center Friday evening as part of the Film Society's ongoing Free Talks series. "I feel like scientists are incorrectly portrayed in Hollywood movies as cliché, stale, and dry. Scientists in reality are different. Scientists get laid and have humor. They're very passionate about making a name for themselves and making a discovery in a lab."
I Origins was conceived well before Cahill made his first feature, Another Earth, which debuted at Sundance in 2011. The film, starring and co-written by Marling, went on to receive multiple Spirit and Gotham Award nominations in addition to being named by the National Board of Review as one of the top 10 independent films of the year.
I Origins was quickly fast-tracked after Cahill met actor Michael Pitt (Broadway Empire, The Dreamers), who just happened to live in the same Brooklyn neighborhood. "My agent asked me, 'Hey do you want to meet Michael Pitt?' and I said, 'Of course,'" explained Cahill in a brief conversation with FilmLinc. "I've admired him from afar for a long time. I think he's made some interesting choices and has the highest integrity as an actor. He's just bold and surprising and anything that has his name on it, I want to see. We met for coffee in Williamsburg and we just hit it off."
Initially their coffee chat was meant to be a meet and greet, but Cahill mentioned the concept for I Origins, which sparked Pitt's interest. Though the idea for the story had been living in his head for years (Cahill says that at any given time he has five or six stories in mind), he only had a treatment, which he gave to the actor soon after meeting.
"A couple days later we met and he said that he really liked it. So I thought that maybe we'd really make this movie together. I left and wrote the script in about two weeks. It was a first draft, but it was all in my head. It was the whole thing," said Cahill. "And then he said, 'Let's do it,' and then I said, 'Let's do it.' And literally we we started going into laboratories the next day."
That was in August 2012, but by that January shooting was underway in both New York and then in India, where the film climaxes. On the same day one year later I Origins had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. "It was super fast," said Cahill. "I remember thinking that I wish I could make more movies this fast."
I Origins will open in theaters beginning next week.