TIFF REVIEW – ‘Origin’ is nothing short of extraordinary

A captivating work that’s nothing short of extraordinary, Ava DuVernay’s Origin deftly intertwines personal narrative with historical analysis to deliver a poignant and thought-provoking film. Based on Isabel Wilkerson’s acclaimed book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, the film delves into the deeply entrenched systems of social hierarchy that have shaped societies across the globe. Through powerful storytelling, stellar performances, and meticulous direction, Origin emerges as a significant and timely work that challenges viewers to reflect on the enduring impact of caste systems and the potential for human connection to transcend these artificial divisions.

The film’s narrative is anchored by the character of Isabel Wilkerson herself, portrayed with exceptional depth and nuance by Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor. Ellis brings to life Wilkerson’s intellectual rigour and emotional vulnerability, capturing the essence of a woman determined to uncover and articulate the hidden structures of inequality that pervade modern society. Her portrayal is both commanding and empathetic, drawing the audience into Wilkerson’s journey of discovery and making complex historical concepts accessible and engaging.

DuVernay’s direction is masterful, blending documentary-style exposition with intimate, character-driven scenes. This approach allows the film to seamlessly transition between Wilkerson’s personal experiences and the broader historical contexts she explores. The use of real-life footage, interviews, and dramatic reenactments provides a rich, multifaceted perspective on the topic of caste, making the film not only informative but also emotionally resonant.

One of the standout aspects of Origin is its ability to connect disparate historical events and societal structures into a coherent and compelling narrative. The film traces the origins and manifestations of caste systems in various cultures, including the United States, India, and Nazi Germany. By highlighting the similarities in these systems, Origin underscores the universality of human tendencies to create hierarchies based on arbitrary distinctions. This comparative analysis is presented with clarity and insight, making a persuasive case for the pervasive and insidious nature of caste across different contexts.

The supporting cast of Origin is equally impressive, with notable performances that enhance the film’s impact. Niecy Nash excels as Wilkerson’s confidante and sounding board, providing moments of warmth and humour that balance the film’s heavier themes. As Wilkerson’s partner, Brett Hamilton, Jon Bernthal offers a subtle and supportive presence, embodying the personal stakes of Wilkerson’s scholarly pursuits. These relationships are portrayed with authenticity, grounding the film’s intellectual exploration in the realm of personal human experience.

One of the most profound aspects of Origin is its exploration of the potential for human connection to overcome the divisions imposed by caste. Through Wilkerson’s personal journey and the stories of individuals who have challenged and transcended these boundaries, the film offers a hopeful vision of a more equitable and inclusive future. This message is conveyed with sincerity and conviction, leaving a lasting impression on the audience. With its blend of documentary and dramatic elements, Origin not only informs but also inspires, challenging viewers to reflect on the enduring impact of caste and the potential for human connection to transcend these artificial divisions.

Distributor: Neon
Cast: Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, Jon Bernthal, Niecy Nash-Betts, Vera Farmiga, Audra McDonald, Nick Offerman, Blair Underwood, Connie Nielsen, Emily Yancy, Jasmine Cephas-Jones, Finn Wittock, Victoria Pedretti
Director: Ava DuVernay
Producers: Paul Garnes, Ava DuVernay
Screenplay: Ava DuVernay
Cinematography: Matthew J. Lloyd
Production Design: Ina Mayhew
Costume Design: Dominique Dawson
Music: Kris Bowers
Editor: Spencer Averick
Running Time: 141 minutes
Release Date: 19th January 2024 (Australia)

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