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Origin (2023) - Movie Review

Movies & TV

By James W.

- Dec 12, 2023

Regarded as a deep-thinking filmmaker, Ava DuVernay never shies away from exploring societal constructs and shared sorrow. This essence has been infused into her latest masterpiece, "Origin," which seamlessly interweaves DuVernay’s passion with her unique knack for storytelling. A pivotal moment ensues when renowned author Isabel Wilkerson (Aunjanue Ellis) is pressurized by her tenacious editor Amari (Blair Underwood) to pen something about Trayvon Martin's death, a national tragedy. Despite Isabel's initial resistance, the story's pull proves to be too strong to ignore.

"Origin," based on journalist Isabel Wilkerson's groundbreaking book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, is rich with compelling conviction. Delving into the complex facets of Isabel's life, the film explores her personal tragedies, unfolding her journey to finding inspiration in grief and negotiating her way around the necessity to write about Martin. Achieving more than discussing race, Isabel wants to deepen understanding of Martin's case by exploring it from various angles.

"Origin" seeks to expose the brutal cyclical patterns of history by drawing parallels between American slavery, the Holocaust, and India’s caste system. Despite facing skepticism about her theories, Isabel takes an enlightening trip to Germany. Amid relaxed music and soothing red wine, Isabel is challenged by her Jewish-German friend Sabine (Connie Nielsen) on her audacious attempt to forge an intercontinental connection between slavery and the Holocaust. Isabel’s silent anger screams louder than a thousand words.

The camera’s aesthetic continuity allows an immersive audience experience across changing decades and places such as Nazi Germany, the American South, and early 20th century India. DuVernay makes full use of the intimate lens of cinematography through strong close-ups, allowing the viewers to connect deeply with the emotions, conflicts, and turmoil within Isabel.

Origin (2023) - Movie Review

DuVernay's voice shines through the quiet, reflective, and personal spaces within the film's structure. A prime example features a tender memory of how Isabel and Brett’s (Jon Bernthal) relationship began. Tender familial interactions, especially between Isabel and her cousin Marion (Niecy Nash), balance out the gravitas of the film's themes. Isabel's trip to India to understand the Dalit caste, with Suraj Yengde (playing himself) serving as an academic guide, broadens the scope of her research on systemic privilege and oppression in diverse cultures.

Some scenes may seem overly obvious and didactic in tone, but it is essential to remember that, at its heart, "Origin" is a piece of brave journalism that commands viewers' attention. Watching Isabel's relentless pursuits, one cannot help but admire her tenacity as a Black woman in a field often visualized as predominantly white. "Origin," in essence, becomes an outspoken testament to DuVernay’s continued demand for audience engagement and empathy.

The film is an extraordinary achievement for DuVernay, a voice too often underrepresented in Hollywood. Her progressive catalog, from "I Will Follow" to "When They See Us," showcases her mastery of marrying collective agony with urgent action. Her direction never descends into exploitation; instead, it puts forth a potent narrative that provokes, challenges, and touches audiences. Even though it has its overt moments, "Origin" remains an intense, thought-provoking triumph and a testament to DuVernay's revolutionary voice in cinema.


6 / 10

Ava DuVernay's emotional epic, "Origin", richly traces the historic roots of race, grief, and power, shining a spotlight on the intersections of America's past and present.