The impact of Charles Darwin’s theories on species evolution is all-encompassing. Not only did his research alter perspectives scientifically, but also with regards to religious beliefs. In Jon Amiel’s new bio-pic, Creation, a title card at the beginning of the film emphasizes this important aspect of Darwin’s work, stating that his published book had “the biggest idea in the history of thought. This is how it came to be written.” Although the film prepares us for a major shift in public thinking, the film quickly unveils its actual focus. Much of the film examines the years in which Darwin completed his epic manuscript, Origin of Species, overcoming both health and personal family issues.
We are introduced to Darwin (Paul Bettany) near the late 1850s, just as he has come to a crossroads in both his life and his work. He has compiled 200-plus pages concerning his theory of evolution, but has yet to make any other significant headway on finishing his book. Friends and colleagues beg him to finish what he started, claiming that he may just win the battle in the creationists versus evolutionists forum. However, this is an attribute that Darwin cannot relish as an honor, as he grapples with his own faith and possible responsibility of affecting the public’s beliefs.
Moreover, Darwin has isolated himself from his devoutly Christian wife, Emma (Jennifer Connelly), through his diligent research that could potentially damage their lives for all eternity. Throughout these internal struggles, Darwin relapses into past memories of his deceased daughter, Annie (Martha West), who shared a passion for the sciences and her father’s influential studies. Beyond flashbacks, Darwin’s ailing health leads to ghostly encounters with Annie that lead many to believe, including himself, that he is incapable of completing such an insurmountable task.
The basis of the screenplay was adapted from Darwin descendent Randal Keynes’ novel, Annie’s Box, an introspective on the personal battles of the naturalist. Much like the film, the book continually exhibits scenes of Darwin and his young, dead daughter communicating in the past or in a hallucination. However, the subjective view from Darwin’s perception leads to a bizarre relationship of delusions, as his dead daughter becomes a rational part of his psyche. This may have worked in the novel, but becomes forced, turning the already sickly looking Darwin into a fanatically obsessed mourner, moving away from the brilliant theorist.
The fact that a man who is perceived as creating warring factions on the development of life would be so torn between his religious faith and scientific judgment is interesting on many levels. Yet, the title card is a little misleading. There is no real intrigue in Creation, it more meanders along, hoping the audience will understand the value of Darwin overcoming his inner struggles. Unfortunately, they will be more apt to clamor when there are only snippets of Darwin’s travels to tropical destinations. It is obvious the filmmakers strived to create a worthy depiction of a notable portion of Charles Darwin’s life, but just missed the mark. It does have a few moments, thanks to a scene-stealing Orangutan, though.
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