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Film Review: ORIGIN (2023): Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor is Mesmerizing in Ava DuVernay’s Intense and Powerful Dramatic Film

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Aunjanue Ellis Taylor Jon Bernthal Origin

Origin Review

Origin (2023) Film Review, a movie written and directed by Ava DuVernay and starring Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, Jon Bernthal, Niecy Nash, Finn Wittrock, Victoria Pedretti, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Isha Blaaker, Vera Farmiga, Audra McDonald, Connie Nielsen, Blair Underwood, Nick Offerman, Stephanie March, Myles Frost, Donna Mills and Jordan Lloyd.

Based on the book by Isabel Wilkerson, filmmaker Ava DuVernay’s Origin is a chilling picture that is among the most disturbing films ever made. It vividly shows instead of telling its powerful, deeply unsettling story. Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor delivers one of the most profound performances of 2023 as the author, Isabel Wilkerson.

Ellis-Taylor doesn’t miss a beat in one of the most authentic-feeling roles seen at the movies this year. When her character discusses her home, a woman tells her that since she writes books, she should be able to put a few thousand into it to fix it up. Isabel reiterates that she’s writing “a book” and that it doesn’t pay what people think it does. Little details like that fact which Isabel reveals make a story of horrific proportions feel grounded in a reality which becomes disturbing as more and more revelations come to the surface that are tragic and unrelenting in their excesses.

Origin shows the level of research required to write a true literary masterpiece through Isabel but it also tackles other story lines and interweaves them into the film with masterful precision. The film opens as a young man, Trayvon Martin (Myles Frost) is buying a drink and a pack of Skittles while talking on the phone to a girl. He soon recognizes he is being followed and that the same car has circled the block he is walking down a couple of times. This film also comes full circle at its conclusion with its depiction of Martin and the unfortunate series of events that surround the car which was following him.

Jon Bernthal superbly portrays Isabel’s loyal husband, Brett, who loves her and helps her in her daily endeavors which include trying to find a suitable home for Isabel’s aging mom. This movie beautifully portrays the connection between Isabel and Brett through revealing the moments in which they first met and realized they had a rapport that could work.

Niecy Nash as Isabel’s cousin, Marion, is simply terrific in this film. Marion is an important character here as Isabel sacrifices time with her in order to fulfill her professional ambitions. Marion tells her that she must go and write the story that people will absolutely need to read. There is a very emotional scene where Ellis-Taylor explains how important Marion is. This is one of the most crucial scenes to understanding Isabel’s pains, passions and loyalties to her family.

Isabel suffers a tremendous amount of loss in the picture as she tries to bring harsh realities into view in a written work of importance. She travels around the world to have the requisite authenticity factor that is necessary to write a compelling literary work. The topic of her book is the caste system of India and its juxtaposition to both slavery and the Holocaust. Isabel fearlessly pursues her ideas to the extent that will lead her to make disturbing discoveries that are linked to the problems of racism but does racism, on its own, explain what has happened regarding people being classified by unreliable methods that make their lives unlivable to their potential? The findings of Isabel through her journeys makes for one of the most compelling pictures of the year.

There are sequences in Origin that are excessively brutal to watch but must be seen to understand the torture people endured in the past through their segregation and exploitation. We watch families being torn apart and people being brutally murdered or tortured. There are moments here that are very difficult to endure but are important to understanding the levels of suffering human beings have had to succumb to.

A heartbreaking sequence revolves around a young Black boy who cannot swim in a pool with white children. He isn’t allowed to. Eventually, this child is put on a raft and left to float in the pool as long as his body does not touch the water. It’s as sickening a thought as some of the film’s other brutality. This part of the movie is absolutely devastating and Isabel discusses how this boy’s life was forever altered by the aforementioned scenario.

Origin tackles a lot of uncomfortable topics fearlessly. The scenes in India with Isabel researching the caste system are very informative and the film is emotionally moving to the point that you just don’t watch this movie, you experience it and it could change the way you perceive societies of the past and, most importantly, of today.

Ellis-Taylor’s performance is easily one of the best of the year. Her ability to command the viewer’s respect and attention is admirable enough but we also see this character as Isabel from the moment she appears on-screen. There’s nothing here to make us believe that this is a role being played. It’s acting of the highest caliber and we are right there with Isabel through all her tribulations. This film is peppered with some fine performers in supporting roles who help advance the details of the story. Among them are Blair Underwood, Connie Nielsen and Vera Farmiga, all of whom excel in their parts.

Origin is Ava DuVernay’s most mature and accomplished film to date. Its a harrowing story of pain and sorrow that becomes hopeful when one considers that revealing the terrors of the past could serve to change the future for the better. This story was one that absolutely had to be told and the director and lead actress are triumphant in bringing to life one of the most urgent and necessary films of the year. It’s a great picture.

Rating: 9.5/10

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