Mike Cahill came to international attention with his low budget indie film Another Earth in 2011. The film used science fiction as the underpinning of a story that delved into the human condition. The film was a moderate success in terms of box office and received much praise including a glowing review from moviescramble. Cahill has returned with a similar film as his follow-up. Again science fiction is in the background as themes of life, love and spiritualisation are explored.
Dr Ian Gray (Michael Pitt) is a young scientist on a mission. Ever since childhood he has been preoccupied with the eye. Everyone has a unique set of eyes and as an adult Dr Gray’s mission is an attempt to chart the evolution of the eye from animals that are naturally blind to the 20/20 vision of human beings. When research student Karen (Brit Marling) starts to work with him, her ideas and insights galvanise him and start him in a direction that could end with a major scientific breakthrough.
At the same time, Ian encounters a mysterious masked girl at a party. She captivates him but leaves him before he can figure out who she is. All he has is a photograph of her eyes. Through a serious of odd occurrences, he is directed to a billboard which features the same eyes in his photo. He is then able to find the girl (Astrid Berges-Frisbey). Sofi is a unique and spiritual woman who believes in fate and soul mates. She in turn pushes him to further his research in the search for the origins of the eye and perhaps the human soul.
The film shares a number of elements with Another Earth. The look and feel of the film is very similar. For the most part, it is shot in a rather grainy and stark way. This is a comment on the work that the scientists are doing. There is nothing glamorous about research and in a lot of ways it is tedious and repetitive work when trying to establish and confirm the facts. The camera work, although intimate with its habit of close up shots, never feels intrusive and actually helps to convey the mood of most of the scenes.
Michael Pitt is superb in the lead role. Given the chance to do something a little different to his role in the television series Boardwalk Empire he pieces together the performance of a man who is driven and dedicated to his work but is conflicted and confused when he encounters things he cannot rationalise. It is an understated and nuanced performance which is a highlight of the film. Britt Marling is also impressive in the role of the research assistant. She has a real quality to her performance that allows the audience to understand her character really quickly without her having to seemingly do too much on-screen. Astrid Berges-Frisbey was new to me and she is perfect in the role of the flighty Sofi. It is difficult to portray a slightly kooky and free-spirited personality without slipping into caricature which leads to the character alienating the audience. She is as understated as the other main characters and fits in very nicely.
The film has a slow and contemplative pace. There is no requirement to rush things along and the story unfolds without any need to push it forward. In a way, this mirrors the approach that the scientists have to take with their research. Moving too quickly can lead to mistakes which compound over time. The pace of the film is somewhat deceptive though as you get sucked into the story and actually appreciate the lack of urgency. The music that helps the mood is suitably in the background and doesnot interrupt in any way. As it always should, the music serves to convey the mood rather than force it. It mostly involves gentle piano music with electronics for atmosphere.
Overall, this is a film that is definitely worth your time. It is beautifully shot and has a story and performances that will more than entertain you and leave you thinking of it for some time after. Highly recommended.