But what Origin stands out for is its blend of theory and emotion. Isabelle’s relationship with her husband, Brett, is an aspect of the protagonist’s romantic life but also an aspect of her political life. When he suddenly passes away, Isabelle helps process what happened by studying inbreeding—the custom of marrying only within the confines of one’s own group. Her research allows her to mourn him and celebrate him as someone who, by contrast, defied the American class system through love and understanding. It is a simple yet powerful exposition of how one’s own education historically and socially can help nourish the spirit and clarify personal struggles.
The film is shot using a cinematic grain that is colourful, textured and timeless in appearance, adding to its sense of tangible literary significance. where it occasionally stumbles with notes of drama hyperbole that seem hollow, detracting from the refined storytelling. Scenes in which Isabel is shown lying despairingly on a bed of autumn leaves, or she is depicted interacting with characters from the past through abstract sequences — “You’ll be fine,” she says to a young black boy who is denied entry to a whites-only pool — feel somewhat dissonant. When juxtaposed with authentic re-enactments of horrific events, such as the transportation of black slaves from the hulls of ships from Africa to the United States, or the separation of mothers and children in concentration camps during the Holocaust.
“It happened, so it can happen again” – says the phrase of Holocaust survivor Primo Levi, who is mentioned in the film in a museum that Isabelle is visiting in Germany. If the Nazis were inspired by American methods of enslavement, as we learn in one scene, future atrocities could be committed in the spirit of discrimination that is being committed around the world today. Exploring this gruesome setting, DuVernay’s film unfolds with indescribable clarity and intense focus, full of vibrant heart and intent.
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