'Origin' is intelligent as well as moving - Catholic Courier
This is a poster from the movie “Origin,” staring Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor. This is a poster from the movie “Origin,” staring Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor. (OSV photo by Neon)

‘Origin’ is intelligent as well as moving

NEW YORK (OSV News) – In 2020, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Isabel Wilkerson published the sociological study “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.” In adapting Wilkerson’s work to create the biographical drama “Origin” (Neon), writer-director Ava DuVernay adopts an unusual approach to her source material.

DuVernay interweaves events from Wilkerson’s personal life with her professional examination of American racism within a global context. Thanks in large part to a forceful performance from Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, who portrays the scribe, DuVernay’s recipe generally works, though some of her artistic choices can be questioned.

‘Origin’ acceptable for older teens due to educational value

Ultimately, both the story of Wilkerson’s relationships and her analysis of history prove compelling. The film, moreover, includes a minimum of objectionable elements, making it probably acceptable for older teens, especially in light of its educational value.

Already recognized as a leader in her field, Wilkerson enjoys the warm support of both her white husband, Brett Hamilton (Jon Bernthal), and her kindly mother, Ruby (Emily Yancy). But tumultuous events will eventually find her depending more and more on the backing of her cousin and lifelong friend Marion (Niecy Nash-Betts).

Marion’s vibrant personality and take-no-prisoners candor complement Wilkerson’s understated reserve. She also serves as one of the people on whom the scholar can try out her gradually coalescing theory about the grim history of race relations in the U.S.

Briefly stated, Wilkerson’s thesis is that the oppression of Black Americans is simply one manifestation of the universal human instinct to stratify people into a hierarchy of superior and inferior groups. She cites eight “pillars” on which all such schemes of division rest, ranging from the prohibition of intermarriage to dehumanization and the use of terror to enforce the system.

Real-life stories illustrating Wilkerson’s argument, drawn not only from the Jim Crow era but from Nazi Germany and contemporary India as well, engage viewer interest more effectively than scenes in which Ellis-Taylor reads long passages from the text of “Caste.” Fortunately, though, there are more touching moments than didactic interludes in the movie.

Movie emphasizes need for unity, mutual respect

Intelligent as well as moving, “Origin” emphasizes the need for unity, mutual respect and a sense of responsibility, regardless of our relationship to the wrongs of the past. As such, it both conforms with and reinforces Gospel values.

The film contains mature themes, at least one profanity, a few milder oaths and fleeting crude language. The OSV News classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

Tags: Movie Review
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