Review of Creation
January 22, 2010
In Creation, a film adaptation of Randall Keynes book of the same name, Charles Darwin comes to terms with the death of his daughter Annie, the meaning of his work, and the pain his discovery causes his devoutly reverent wife Emma. Heart-grasping acting and beautiful cinematography occasionally lose their shimmer due to momentary cases of the doldrums.
Wrought with sickness, Charles Darwin (Paul Bettany) is pressured by Thomas Huxley (Toby Jones) and Joseph Hooker (Benedict Cumberbatch) to finish his work on natural selection. They are convinced that if he does, his stomach issues will be resolved. Emma Darwin (Jennifer Connelly), Charles’ wife, is a devout Christian and worries about the implications for her husband’s soul should he continue to write his book. Their family reverend, Innes (Jeremy Northam), vehemently opposes even the idea of dinosaurs and engages Darwin in discussion to challenge his theory. Darwin’s devoted daughter, Annie (Martha West), is her father’s constant companion whenever he is working on his studies. When Annie falls ill and dies, Darwin cannot find the resolve to finish his book. Wracked by the guilt he feels, his relationship with his wife begins to unravel.
Paul Bettany’s portrayal of Charles Darwin in Creation makes this much-revered scientist more than just the brilliance of his theory. Darwin becomes a human being with insecurities, flaws, and resolute love. Bettany endows Darwin with such amplitude for self torment that it is impossible for the audience not to be affected. His tender touch with Martha West’s Annie is endearing and paternal. Bettany manages to strain the relationship between Charles and Emma far, but it never goes beyond the reach of the love they have for each other.
The supporting cast is Bettany’s equal. Jennifer Connelly makes Emma reverent but not condescending. She is regal but still warm and endearing. Any fan of the real Thomas Huxley will be satisfied by the nearly pit-bull-like portrayal by Toby Jones. Even the young Martha West makes Annie an adorable symbol of sorrow.
Jennifer Connelly and Paul Bettany in a scene from Jon Amiel's Creation - photo courtesy of Liam Daniel
Where Creation goes a bit off track is in its repeatedly long, tedious scenes that add nearly nothing to the quality of the story. I am unsure how many times we need to see pigeons die, dunked, or stripped of their flesh before even that gets a bit boring. On more than one occasion, I found attention wandering from the screen to my fingernails, back to the screen, to my itchy eyelid, and finally back to the screen. Director Jon Amiel and writer John Collee should have either supervised the editing more closely or written a more precise script. It would have given the audience more reason to be invested in the characters. These moments are fleeting but they occur often enough to be noticeable.
I am not a Charles Darwin historian, but it is obvious that the filmmakers took more than a bit of creative license when it comes to Annie. After her death, Darwin sees her everywhere in what could be misconstrued as a form of madness rather than a form of grief. Since Americans get a great deal of their information about history from movies, I am concerned that theists may use Creation as a weapon to claim Darwin was mad while writing On the Origin of Species. Taken only as a movie though, his ongoing relationship with Annie is a poignant, visual representation of the degree of his grief. The more he sees her, the more lost he is in his devastation.
People who know a bit about Darwin will be delighted by a few of the details in the film. Pay close attention his walking loop, Huxley, and the drawings in the book as he writes it. They give a bit of a nod to people in the know.
Creation is not a story about nature or the method of speciation. It is a love story about the love between a father and a daughter, the love between a married couple, and the love of knowledge. It does not try to put forth questions about natural selection or intelligent design but only the consequences of love. It is a love story that will leave skeptics feeling especially nourished.