CREATION received wonderful reviews when it premiered at the prestigious Toronto Film Festival but, those reviews notwithstanding, the film had difficulty picking up a distributor in the US, apparently because of the fear that it would offend the religious right.
The film is based on the book, Annie's Box, which was written by Darwin's great-great- grandson, Randal Keynes, so I don't suppose there's any doubting its veracity. Against that the film is very much focused on Darwin's family situation and the death of his young daughter, Annie, in particular and not on the great man's work. It's a sometimes powerful yet strangely uneven telling of the tale. We see Darwin as a family man who struggles to accept his daughter's death, a man who is torn between his love for his deeply religious wife and his own growing belief that God has no place in the world. He finds himself caught in a battle between faith and reason, between love and truth, all the while dealing with the death of his favourite daughter, Annie.
Charles Darwin is played by acclaimed British actor, Paul Bettany, probably best known for his role as the mad monk in THE DA VINCI CODE (2006), while Mrs. Darwin is played by Bettany's real life wife and Oscar winning actress, Jennifer Connolly.
There's a palpable tension between the actors, Connolly is particularly good as the understated Mrs. Darwin driven to distraction by the loss of her daughter and the consequent loss of her husband. Darwin's master-work, THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES, comes to light and the film depicts a cosy little world of English gardens in turmoil as a happy marriage is ripped asunder by the loss of a child.
As a film that deals with the loss of a child and the resultant impact on what had previously been a perfectly happy marriage, CREATION works well. It's beautifully shot, with some touching scenes, not least of which concerns the death of an ape, which, when you think about it, is quite apt. What's less apt is hearing Darwin muse, "What if the world stopped believing that God had any sort of plan for us?" Why on earth would he care whether a God he no longer believes in has a plan or not? Which brings up the main problem with the film - as a movie about Darwin and the writing of Origin, it completely misses the boat. It's all religion and no evolution. Where's the Beagle? The Galapagos? Where are the vampire finches? Or woodpecker finches for that matter? Darwin has figured the whole thing out before the movie starts, he's even written most of the book, the film is solely concerned with the question as to whether he should publish or not.
This is a film that, far from offending the religious right, plays straight into their hands by focusing not on the genius of Darwin but on the moral and religious dilemmas which he faced. It's an awful pity that a film about Darwin is mired in religion, particularly given that he was such a strong advocate for free thought on all subjects and that it was his stated object to avoid writing on religion, confining himself to science, believing, as he did, that the disciples of differing theories should not attack one another with bitterness regardless of their beliefs.
It's just a pity that the religious loo-las of today aren't quite as even tempered, though I suspect such wilful ignorance would quickly melt even the great man's resolve. They have long since melted mine. And with that in mind, I strongly recommend going to see the film if for no other reason than to annoy the nuts from the religious right.