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CREATION

film_creation2The subject of the film is Charles Darwin, but don’t go expecting high seas adventure in exotic ports on board the naturalist’s famous research ship, the Beagle. What director Jon Amiel delivers instead is Creation, a mild-mannered, at times claustrophobic, yet moving period family drama about the effect of Darwin’s radical theories of evolution on his family life, and vice versa. Scripted by John Collee (best known for his intricate screenwriting on Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World), the film is based on the biographical book “Annie’s Box: Darwin, His Daughter, and Human Evolution.” Written by Randal Keynes (Darwin’s great, great grandson), using a wealth of private family documents, the book focuses on the difficult period during which Darwin produced—and almost failed to produce—his groundbreaking book, “On The Origin Of Species.” Paul Bettany stars in the film as a middle-aged, laudanum-taking Darwin, still ill with grief over the death of his young daughter, Annie (a spunky Martha West, in flashback). He also suffers from a more fearsome malaise over the divisive repercussions his scientific observations on natural selection will have on a society based on obedience to “God’s plan,” as to the authority of “a wise and affectionate parent.” Darwin considers it a “wasteful plan” if thousands must die so a few can survive. His colleague Thomas Huxley (a brief appearance by Toby Jones) puts it more succinctly: “You’ve killed God!” he exults.  The division has film_creation2already begun in Darwin’s own household, with his wife, Emma (Jennifer Connelly) retreating further into religious faith, turning for spiritual healing to the village vicar (Jeremy Northam),  her “physician of the soul.” She thinks Charles is “at war with God,” and fears they’ll be separated for all eternity, while Huxley exhorts him to “lance the boil,” and let the book of his life’s work flow out of him. Amiel dresses up what is essentially a domestic drama with some artfully eerie nature sequences, a couple of nightmares, and a poignant encounter between Darwin and Jenny, a wild orangutan from Borneo held captive in the London Zoo. (Indeed, Jenny provides the film’s most heartbreaking moment.) The reconciliation between the Darwins feels a bit schematic, but while the filmmakers try hard not to sensationalize the faith vs. science debate, they do dare to suggest that rational thought deserves a place in any evolved society. (PG-13) 108 minutes. ★★★

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