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Mike Cahill’s loopy sci-fi fantasy I Origins plays with the double function of the human eye: at once our primary organ of judgment, with which we verify our experiences, and the ‘window to the soul’, symbol of our essential selves. We can study their structure, Cahill suggests, but holding someone’s gaze can also forge a mystic connection that evades logical explanations.
As a graduate student, molecular biologist Ian (Michael Pitt) is researching the evolutionary development of the human eye, along with his housemate Kenny (Steven Yeun). Initially dismissive of his new lab partner Karen (Brit Marling, reunited with Cahill after 2011’s Another Earth), Ian comes to admire her unexpected resourcefulness and tenacity.
Ian’s work is also his hobby; he photographs the irises of everyone he meets. At a Halloween party (Ian is the kind of guy who wears his lab coat as a costume), he photographs and briefly fucks an attractive masked woman. Afterwards, he fixates on her unusual irises and tracks her down. She is Sofi (Astrid Bregès-Frisbey), a free-spirited young model who believes she has otherworldly powers of perception.