13 April 2024
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Film Review – Origin (2023)

read Clotilde Chinnicci's review for Origin

With a film like Origin, it is hard to know where to begin talking or writing about it, which may be why I have typed and deleted more introductions to this review than I would like to admit. Maybe, it is best to start from the very beginning, from the high expectations I had for this film before even seeing it. As someone who has been a fan of Ava DuVernay and her films for years, it feels like ever since the film premiered at the Venice Film Festival in September 2023, I have been waiting to see it. And for the incredible movie that it is, the wait was more than worth it. 


Origin is loosely based on Isabel Wilkerson’s critically acclaimed non-fiction book “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.” Throughout the film, we follow Isabel Wilkerson (Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor) as she approaches writing this book and analysing these themes while grappling with an immense personal tragedy. As she writes the book, the audience sees her travelling to Germany, India, and the United States to research the systems of oppression in each country’s history. In doing so, she elaborates on the theory that race may not be the only factor when it comes to systemic oppression as she reflects on the hierarchical class system, which ties together the caste system in India, the Holocaust, and racism in the United States. 


Origin is the perfect example of what Ava DuVernay does best as a filmmaker by taking a complex set of ideas and explaining it in an incredibly direct and understandable way as the thesis of the film is explained very clearly both visually and through scriptwriting. Everything that Isobel researches and learns as she works on her book is shown to the audience visually, whether that is by a series of flashbacks to Nazi Germany or following her travels to India. By doing so, the movie shows us the basic thesis at the core of “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents,” rather than just explaining it to the audience, and, thus, makes us understand it and embrace it. 


The movie also does a really good job of moving across multiple planes of action and timeframes that are ultimately interconnected. Initially, the film deals with Isobel’s personal life, exploring her grief and self-discovery, while also following her journey in choosing to write this book. At the same time, the film moves across time and space as we travel back to Hitler’s Germany for her research on the Holocaust, to the Depression-era segregated Mississippi, and to modern-day India to witness Isobel’s research. This allows us to follow different stories, some of them through flashbacks, all of which eventually come together when we learn more about the book the main character is writing as she eventually develops her thesis for the book.    


This film may just be one of Ava DuVernay’s most ambitious works to date, one in which she is not afraid to ask uncomfortable questions and make the audience sit with them during the whole length of the film. The movie is a masterful work from everyone involved, in which the acting performances and camerawork particularly stand out, as well as a brilliant exploration of the issues we see in our current society on a daily basis. Origin is a film so powerful that it is hard to describe just how significant, heartbreaking, and important the story it tells is: nothing will ever be like watching it for yourself.


Origin is an incredibly timely film that invites us to not only reflect on the three examples we are presented with, but also to apply this to our current political scene. In a time of exacerbating international conflict, this film can offer us a much-needed lens to analyse our present, look back at our past, and imagine what we want our future to look like. This is a film that leaves the audience upset and angry for a chance in a day and age when we desperately need one. I only wish Ava DuVernay’s film had gotten more attention during award season in order for it to be recognised for the groundbreaking and unique movie that it is. 


In UK cinemas March 08th/ Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, Jon Bernthal, Niencey Nash, Emily Yancy/ Dir: Ava DuVernay / Black Bear / Neon/ PG-13

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