The Breadcrumbs widget will appear here on the published site.
Flashback Film Review: "Creation" (2010)
Still haven't seen it? See Darwin, the man.
By Suzanne Day
Until recently, I was under the false impression that Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution is not nearly as controversial today as it was when my parents were in school.
The filmmakers of Creation, the first feature-length biopic of English naturalist Charles Darwin, had hoped to open their film in 2009, the year that marked the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s famous book-length study of his theory of evolution, The Origin of Species. They accomplished this throughout most of Europe including Darwin’s home country of England; however, it took several months for an American distributor to bite. And by the time that Newmarket Films—a small independent studio that, from the looks of its website, hasn’t distributed a project since 2007—took Creation under its wing, it decided to push its release into January 2010.
With about a three-week window to see Creation on the big screen, I dashed over to a small, art house cinema in Cambridge, MA. Surrounded by a handful of other filmgoers who came through for this little movie with hardly any advertising, I settled in for Darwin’s story.
Directed by Jon Amiel (Somersby, The Core) and starring Paul Bettany as the English naturalist, the film is introduced as an account of Darwin’s efforts to bring his ideas on natural selection and evolution to the public by writing The Origin of Species. In the opener, however, Darwin’s bereavement over the loss of his eldest daughter serves as the focus.
Darwin’s daughter, Annie (Martha West), is a precocious child who indelibly supports her father’s career in science. She shares his curiosity and sense of wonder, constantly asking him to tell her stories of his adventures and travels. In Annie, Darwin finds the sole naturalist advocate in his family, and when she dies (presumably from spending a winter afternoon on the beach), Darwin finds himself unable to connect with his remaining family.
The story is told in a nonlinear narrative of flashbacks/flashforwards, and at times, it’s unclear whether Annie is alive or if Darwin is interacting with her apparition. I found the style a bit disorienting at times, but there were moments where the disconnect is quite powerfully edited—like the parallel sequences of Annie’s illness and Darwin’s (his health declines later in the film).
Much of the film operates around a buildup of tension between Darwin and his wife, Emma (played by Bettany’s off-screen spouse, Jennifer Connelly). Their discord begins long before Annie’s death, as Emma is a devoutly religious woman inconveniently married to a man whose theory of evolution adequately disproves the creationist teachings of the church. Throughout the film’s two-hour run, it appears that Darwin is constantly trying to appease his wife, to convince her that his findings will not send him to hell.
When Annie dies, the rift between the two parents becomes something incapable of healing. And when they finally confront one another, the tension between them erodes without much explanation. It’s difficult to know what the two are feeling and how they have achieved such a resolution by the end of the film. I’d like to have been able to get inside the characters’ thoughts more easily, to have understood and believed in their eventual reconnection.
While this portrait of the Darwin family’s grief and internal struggle of identity is beautifully captured, I can’t get past one question: Where is the science? Had I not paid attention in my high school biology class, I wouldn’t have been able to determine what it is Darwin poured his life’s work into based on this film. There is no mention of adapting bird beaks, or of giant armadillos in South America. Instead, much of the spectacle takes place in Darwin’s backyard—a scene with his children watching a fox prey on a bunny rabbit, or a discussion at tea on the varying types of earthworms. Considering the great miles Darwin traveled in the name of scientific discovery, I thought we might at least see him journey to the Galapagos Islands.
Given the resistance that Creation’s producers had to overcome to get their film distributed to an American audience, I’m surprised to see so little of what studios were actually afraid of show up in the film—a defense of science. In this story of Darwin’s life, the conflict between religion and science takes a back seat to the family’s struggle to cope with the loss of a child. Creation packs an emotional punch, but I’m afraid it’s in the wrong direction.
Comments are closed.