“It’s such a blur now, that I have no idea if I did that on purpose or not,” said director Mike Cahill from inside a room at the Philadelphia Four Seasons.
“It’s kind of amazing…” replied actor Michael Pitt, taking a drag from his cigarette on the balcony, “if ya didn’t.”
“That’s the thing – I think I didn’t,” Cahill said, excitedly shifting on the couch. “Because that’s kind of the first time I was hearing it.”
Less than 24 hours earlier, Cahill and Pitt appeared before an audience at a screening of their new movie “I Origins.” In one scene, a character answers a series of 25 questions each corresponding with a letter of the alphabet, excluding Z. The film states that the character answered 44% of the questions correctly, but a math-savvy woman in the crowd pointed out that the percentage equates to 11 correct answers, which eerily calls back to a repeating number 11 earlier in the movie.
And, apparently, Cahill didn’t do it on purpose.
“Oh, my god, I did not think of that,” he said, re-counting the number of letters in the alphabet on his fingers. “I totally didn’t think of that. I guarantee I didn’t think of that. I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around it now.”
“That’s [expletive] awesome,” Pitt said, taking his place on the couch for our interview.
Movies that are one part mind-blowing and one part [expletive] awesome have become somewhat of a hallmark for Cahill. In 2011, the filmmaker made a splash with his stunningly original sci-fi indie “Another Earth,” which imagined a world in which a second duplicate Earth appears just beyond our planet.
The idea for “I Origins,” according to Cahill, was born long before “Another Earth,” and was inspired by the green-eyed Afghan girl on the June 1985 cover of National Geographic, as well as the subsequent journey to find her 17 years later.
The film stars Pitt (“Boardwalk Empire”) as Ian Gray, a molecular biologist studying the origins of the human eye in hopes of disproving creationists with hard evidence that the eye was born out of evolution. Gray gets more than he bargained for, however, when he and his lab partner Karen (Brit Marling) make a discovery that goes beyond science and may change everything humanity thought about spirituality, reincarnation and fate. The revelation also reconnects Ian with a mysterious woman from his past, the free-spirited Sofi (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), to whom he was inexplicably drawn.
“There’s a part of Ian that he’s felt and not understood since he’s been a very, very young child,” Pitt said in regards to his character’s supernatural attraction to Sofi. “If there was an intuitive sense to find an object or something like that – if that was possible, I think there would be ways that you could exercise those intuitive strengths. And you would have to be open to them. I think, at a very early age, because of his love for science, that whatever little psychic powers he might have, he shut the door and never exercised them.”
He added: “That’s something I’ve never really said to anyone, but it’s something I thought about. When you’re presented with someone with those traits, they can see it or feel it on you and, maybe, provoke you a little bit to pull them out. What I was playing with was that Sofi had that, and she could see, very clearly, that little spot in him where he had that intuitive sense.”
Cahill, as it turns out, has an intuitive sense of his own.
“I have special powers when it comes to finding stuff,” he told me. “It’s like another sense. I never talk about that… publically, because then people think I’m crazy.”
In one instance, Cahill says he was able to find Brit Marling’s lost passport over the phone. In another, he located his missing laptop in the lost and found of a Cleveland restaurant he had never been to. In yet another, he retrieved a missing corkscrew during his first visit to Pitt’s home. And in the most peculiar, the director trekked through Washington, D.C., following only his instincts, in search of his stolen Vespa.
“I started having visions in my head. And it was as if something started telling me where to walk,” Cahill recalled. “And my body was like, ‘Walk that way.’ And I started walking through the streets of D.C. I walked 10 blocks and, literally, my body was like, ‘Take a left.’ I was totally giving in to some weird thing going on. I was getting flashes in my head like, ‘Walk another 10 blocks.’ And I kept doing this and walked to a neighborhood I had never been in in D.C. I turned the corner and there was a park, and there was my bike sitting right in the park.”
While his proclivity for unexplained phenomenon may have inspired elements within “I Origins,” could it have been a supernatural force itself that influenced Cahill to include the aforementioned 11:11 phenomenon – believed to signal the presence of paranormal forces – in his script to begin with?
“We had finished the movie and I realized [11:11] was a whole thing,” he said. “There were all these conspiracy websites about [how] the person who sees the 11:11’s is like the gatekeeper and the key holder or something that sounds like ‘Ghostbusters.’ And I was like, ‘What?’ I don’t have any brains. I’m just channeling from somewhere else. There’s no thought going into this.”
“I can see the headline now,” Pitt quipped. “Mike Cahill: I Don’t Have Any Brains.”
“I Origins” is in select theaters across the country now. Click here to order tickets through Fandango.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.