About The Production
Writer and director Mike Cahill calls his second feature film, I ORIGINS,
molecular-biology thriller and a love story.
"For generations, the eyes have been called the windows to
the soul," explains Cahill. "Think about it," he says. "We each
possess these magnificent artworks on the front of our face. They are
all beautiful, if you look very closely at them. In 1987 a professor at
Cambridge University named John Daugman gave that poetic belief a
basis in science when he discovered that each human being has a
unique and measurable iris pattern, not unlike a fingerprint."
From a scientific point of view, the eye is an intricate,
complex machine. Says Cahill: "It has an iris, a pupil, a retina, an optic
nerve, sclera and various
muscles. Each has specialized functions and work together seamlessly."
Like Cahill's first film, 2011 Sundance Film Festival winner ANOTHER EARTH, I
ORIGINS is a personal and unconventional exploration of the mysteries of the
To Cahill, scientists are important role models for filmmakers. "They spend
their lives asking the
big questions," he explains. "Why are we here? What are we made of? They explore
levels of matter and they look at the biggest things, like the universe. I wish
I were a scientist, but
I'm a filmmaker, so I make films about scientists."
I ORIGINS' protagonist, Dr. Ian Gray (Michael Pitt), is a molecular biologist
the evolution of the eye. Cahill says Gray's character is based very loosely on
the famed evolutionary biologist and atheist. "Ian is a researcher whose work
leads him to
question his beliefs on science and spirituality. When we first meet him, he
believes in proof; he
believes in data. Spirituality is guided by faith, which is the belief in
At a late-night party, Ian meets a mysterious masked woman with magnificent
after their brief encounter, she disappears before he can get her name. A little
detective work and
a series of extraordinary coincidences lead Ian back to the young woman, whose
discovers, is Sofi.
"The way he finds her has everything to do with her eyes," says Cahill. "It
when it happens, but it involves both science and intuition. Sofi turns out to
be totally different
from Ian. She's a wild child, a free spirit. But opposites attract and they have
Since Daugman's early groundbreaking work at Cambridge, iris-recognition
have been developed that can photograph the human eye and generate a unique
12-digit code to
describe them. Once a far-fetched element in science fiction films like MINORITY
technology is now a reality used in airports and passport facilities, by the
military, and even by
private corporations including Google.
"When you travel through Heathrow Airport, you can now go through the fast
you've had your eye scanned," says Cahill. "In some hospitals, they scan newborn
It's like a fingerprint, but you don't have to touch ink. Everyone has his or
her own unique iris. In
the film, we've taken iris-recognition a step further, which I think is pretty
The eye's complexity has sparked an impassioned debate between people with a
scientific bent and those who rely more on religious faith. Richard Behe, a
and creationist, has argued that the eye is irreducibly complex. It is too
specific in its structure to
be explained by evolution and therefore is proof of intelligent design-and the
existence of God.
Others, including Dawkins, have proposed that a fully functioning human eye
could have evolved
from light sensitive cells through mutations over centuries.
"The character of Ian is trying to demonstrate real, practical examples of
each stage of the
eye's evolution," Cahill says. "If he can, he will have made an unprecedented
discovery that he
hopes will settle the argument."
I ORIGINS reteams the director with producer Hunter Gray, who produced
EARTH along with Cahill and Marling. "This script was something Mike had been
for a long time," says Gray. "It's an amazing story of discovery, science and
In most science fiction, there is one facet that takes a leap of faith for
the audience. Mike's
greatest ability is to make people wonder if there is a leap of faith, or if the
world he has created
is real. Once he has people hooked, his own excitement takes over and everyone
believer. Throughout the filmmaking process, from pre-production to post,
everyone who touched
this film put their hearts into it because Mike's energy is infectious."
Producer Alex Orlovsky, Gray's partner in production company Verisimilitude,
"Mike has a very special gift. He takes lofty ideas and explores them through
intimate human stories. The phrase 'a clear vision' is thrown around quite a bit
in the film world,
but I think that Mike embodies those words."
According to Orlovsky, at that point the filmmakers planned to make an
movie, not unlike ANOTHER EARTH. "But as our treatment grew into a full-length
the characters gained depth and gravitas," he says. "It evolved from a
micro-budget project into
an appropriately ambitious second film for Mike."
"My process is to get together with the actors and read the script through,"
continues. "I record that and listen to it over and over to see what feels
right. Then I focus in on
scenes that feel false and we work on them in rehearsal."
The director points to a crucial scene early in the film in which Ian
re-encounters Sofi on
a train. "As I initially scripted it, there was all this dialogue. It became
very clear that filming it
on a real train was going to be very difficult because of the ambient noise. But
working with the
actors, I realized it was all subtext anyway. They didn't have to say anything.
It was all,
appropriately enough, in their eyes. We stripped the whole scene of words and
let it play out
Cahill, who produced, directed, edited and wrote ANOTHER EARTH (as well as
the cinematographer), takes on these four roles again in I ORGINS but he gives
producers Gray and Orlovsky for making the film possible. "Hunter and Alex are
the world's best
producers. To say they are passionate about the project is an understatement.
They are intelligent,
tireless and creatively engaged. Both of them care as much as I do about the
final work and that is
saying a lot. I trust them completely and I know that finding this partnership
early in my career is
a great fortune. They consistently make my work better."
In I ORIGINS, Cahill examines the ultimate question. "What happens after we
is at the heart of the film. Our main character believes in facts and data and
evidence. The last
thing in the world that he believes is that there is an actual soul. But he and
lab partner Karen
(Brit Marling) discover something that changes that."
"The movie is both a drama and a science-fiction film, but ultimately it's
about love and
the infinite nature of love," says Cahill. "I think audiences will take what
they wish for or need
from the film, but I also want the film to inspire hope and wonder. I often
think that the deeper
and more precisely we explore the world through science, the closer we will come
to what could
be understood as a spiritual narrative of life, and I hope that both sides of
this are well represented
in the film. I want it to inspire conversation."
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