Saturday, July 03, 2010

Creation a Biographical Curio that Fails to Evolve

Directed by Jon Amiel
Running Time: 108 minutes
Originally Released: January 22, 2010 (limited release)

* * ½ (out of four)

Creation takes Charles Darwin, the revolutionary researcher whose theory of natural selection is typically heralded as one of the most important scientific discoveries of the last 150 years, and focuses on his role as a father and husband. More specifically, Creation examines the impact that the death of Darwin’s ten-year-old daughter had upon the thinker, and in turn upon his marriage and research. The result is not nearly as compelling as it sounds, primarily because Creation forgets that what makes Darwin a fascinating subject in the first place is his genius, something the film largely ignores.

Paul Bettany stars as Darwin, with Bettany’s real-life spouse, Jennifer Connelly, playing Darwin’s wife and first cousin, Emma. Martha West is Annie, the Darwin’s eldest daughter and Charles’ pride and joy. Annie listens to her father’s scientific tales with the rapt attention most children would reserve only for stories of candy cane forests filled with chocolate rivers. Annie’s affections for her father are so resolute that she would rather spend two hours kneeling on rock salt than contradict her father’s claim that dinosaurs did in fact exist, an idea that does not sit well with her school teacher, the pious Reverend John Innes (Jeremy Northam). So it is that Annie’s untimely death from scarlet fever at the age of ten sends her father reeling. The grief is so acute that Charles finds himself physically ill, unable to sleep or eat, fighting off tremors. He is haunted by his daughter—almost literally—as she appears to him and, at times, questions his hesitation at publishing the discoveries he has made. Meanwhile, friends Thomas Huxley and Joseph Hooker (Toby Jones and Benedict Cumberbatch, respectively) are also encouraging publication, the former congratulating Charles on making observations that have effectively “killed God.” But therein lies at least part of the dilemma—Charles is reluctant to make himself an enemy of the religion he has only recently disavowed, especially when his wife is so unwaveringly committed to it.

For most viewers, Creation explores a side of Darwin that is wholly unfamiliar. It is a shame that director Jon Amiel and screenwriter John Collee, who adapts Randal Keynes’ biography Annie’s Box, did not weave more of the familiar into the film. Rather than seeing a genius tormented by the loss of his daughter, we a see a man in anguish whom we happen to know is a genius. Creation does nothing to instill Darwin with the scientific brilliance he obviously possessed. Instead, it is left to the audience to supply depth to Darwin’s character by drawing on their own background knowledge. The result is that the on-screen Darwin feels terribly one-dimensional, so estranged from the genius for which he is known that we can’t help but question the veracity of what we’re seeing. (Was Darwin really this despondent? Really so reluctant to share his discoveries?) This is not to say that Bettany does not do a fine job with the one dimension that Creation allows him to explore. Rather, it is that Creation too often reduces Darwin to a mournful patriarch who does little more than furrow his brows while slumped over in a chair, too depressed to work.

When all is said and done, Creation unfortunately fits the stereotype of British period dramas all too well. It excels at filling the screen with the sights and sounds of yore, but it is otherwise a bit shallow—at times, uneventful. You get the clickety-clack of the horse-drawn carriages, the barrage of waistcoats, lace bonnets, and flounced dresses, the weeping women and stuffy old men, and the obligatory afternoon picnic in an overgrown field where kids frolic and adults carry on their intellectual conversation where someone will eventually stick his foot in his mouth. It’s not for nothing, but it isn’t everything. Creation occasionally transcends these clichés, but one wishes both the film and the characters on screen were a little more evolved.


  1. I'm enjoying your reviews. You sound so professional! I'm wanting to see Duane Hopwood (I've actually never heard of any of these). I don't get to see many movies anymore. I'll just read your posts and feel like I've seen them :)

  2. It is a pleasure to read your reviews again. You have piqued my curiosity on these films and I would see them if given the chance. I would like to see Duane Hopwood for sure.