Ava DuVernay’s return to feature film sees merge her urgent artistic voice and the social issues that drive it into a cohesive feature that serves both as a nonfiction investigation into caste systems and also what drives a woman to explore it. Based upon the book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent that’s written by the lead character, Isabel Wilkerson (Aujuane Ellis), Origin follows the challenges, exploration, and research that she undertakes in order to write and the questions that come follow. As she travels the globe, we see visual vignettes of the books that she reads as she explores Caste that are shot in beautiful film stock.
Her new film shows an artist using her staying power as both an auteur and large-scale director. The film is expansive and often terrifying as we see how caste systems have functioned in history. Systems that have placed one group above another in circumstances like slavery in America, the Holocaust in Germany, and the Dalit people of India all function the same.
Origin’s greatest strengths come from its broad historical strokes. Duvernay visualizes the lives of the people who have witnessed the horrors of caste system while highlighting the heroes who fought against it. These stories are not only engaging but also highlight the systems that can provoke the worst pacifism in people and the most brutal violence. We see people who feel separated because of Caste and can’t help it. Meanwhile, we also see those who decide to embrace the power that they have for violence, reminding us of the human potential to both destroy but also the void left by not doing anything about them.
Origin features strong performances from its unique ensemble that sees actors in many great small roles. Aujuane Ellis gives a strong performance as the lead while Jon Bernthal shines in his minor role as her husband. The whole film delivers a strong singular vision that I hope Duvernay continues to expand upon. Origin is a unique film that belongs in discussion around the world.
Origin is now playing at TIFF ’23. For more information, click here.