I remember when filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan was on Howard Stern after his second movie Unbreakable. Stern said, “I want you to have protection around you at all time, the way the Secret Service protects the President; because I don’t ever want anything to happen to you, and want to continue to see the amazing movies you make.”
I agreed. Those first two films (The Sixth Sense being the first) were amazing. I feel the same way about writer/director Mike Cahill. His movie Another Earth was on my top 10 list a few years back. He had a limited budget, but still made an intriguing sci-fi film.
In his second picture, he brought along Brit Marling (as well as a small part for the underrated William Mapother). Marling has done some great thought provoking indie movies like Sound of My Voice and The East. I’ll give her a pass for playing Richard Gere’s daughter in the disappointing Arbitrage.
This movie was perfectly cast. Michael Pitt (Boardwalk Empire) has a Johnny Depp/Matt Damon vibe, but has a much more interesting presence on screen. I think of the way Depp played a scientist earlier this year in Transcendence, and it’s nothing compared to how Pitt plays a scientist that won’t listen to any talk about “eyes being the window to the soul” or God, etc. This molecular biologist is obsessed with the eye, and we get flashbacks that show him dismantling a camera as a small boy, just so he can understand exactly how it works. We also get interesting montages of human eyes and how unique they are. Dr. Ian Gray (Pitt) feels he can finally disprove the existence of God based on what he knows about the eye.
At a Halloween party, he meets a mysterious French woman named Sofi (Astrid Berges-Frisbey). Yes, she looks hot in her cat woman/ninja outfit, but what stands out to him is her beautiful eyes. And since he has a habit of asking everyone he meets if he can photograph their eyes, this works as a bizarre sort of pick-up line.
She’s one of those free spirit types that jokes she’s from “another planet” and doesn’t mind taking him into the bathroom for a quicky. We get the feeling something more powerful just took place, but she’s off in a cab before he can get her digits.
Lucky for him, her eyes appear on billboards and in magazine ads for a perfume company. It’s way better use of eyes on a billboard than The Great Gatsby.
Ian searches online, and eventually runs into her on the subway. It becomes a whirlwind romance that was interesting for a few reasons. She’s very spiritual. He not only isn’t, but seems a bit snotty when the topics come up. That doesn’t mean he isn’t enjoying all the sex and the various dates they go on, and he’s soon moving into her place.
Brit Marling shows up as Karen, a lab assistant that Dr. Gray wants nothing to do with. Yet when he realizes she’s done her homework and is also interested in the eye, they start bonding. While you watch this, you wonder why he’s not going out with her instead. She’s probably thinking the same thing, especially after they get engaged and Karen finally meets her.
The romance goes in a direction that is what I always yearn for in romantic films but never get. When they get in a heated fight, you want them to make up. Yet you’re conflicted, because you know Karen the lab assistant is right there, and would definitely be a better partner for him. You’re conflicted in how you feel about all that, and you like the fact that Dr. Gray never once flirts with Karen. We can see the same thing he sees – that she’s beautiful, intelligent, thinks just like him – but he’s in love with somebody else. A flighty woman that’s impulsive, believes in reincarnation and soul mates, and thinks when you take photos of statues, real eyes might just magically appear. It drives him nuts, but hey – he’s in love.
Karen gets obsessed with finding various species that don’t have eyes, so they can experiment with the possibilities of giving them sight. When she has a groundbreaking discovery, things get worse with Sofia and Ian. I won’t spoil it, but the film jumps years ahead, when Ian is married to Karen and they have a baby. Of course, experiments are done on the babies eyes, and the child could have autism. Yes, the plot thickens, but in ways that aren’t even the least bit predictable.
The film has great atmosphere and is very well-shot. When the doctor has to go a dairy in the mid-west, or fly off to India – the photography is gorgeous (thanks to Markus Forderer).
The Radiohead guitarist gets a lot of attention for the film scores he’s done (the one for There Will Be Blood was awful), but it’s the entire band Radiohead that supplies the songs here, as well as a terrific score by Will Bates..
All the small touches the movie does right, too. That could be a couple in bed having a conversation like intelligent adults would.
Jealousy comes up a few different times, but again, the way intelligent adults might deal with that green-eyed monster. That means a subtle, disappointed look – not a shouting match that ends with “You get a different lab partner or I’m out of here!”
There are fun little tropes, like a National Geographic on the wall of a diner that shows the Afghan girl with those incredible green eyes.
There are a few flaws with the movie and some coincidences you’ll have to believe happen. I also didn’t care for the shaky camera in the first part of the film.
When it’s all said and done, this is an ambitious piece of filmmaking and it’s my favorite movie of the year.
The “I” has it!
4 ½ stars out of 5.
(notes after watching movie a second time: unlike Cahill’s film Another Earth, this isn’t as interesting the second time. Also, why did he name a character Paul Eggert Dairy, when he owned a dairy farm? That’s goofy.)