Friday, May 13, 2016

Creation (2009) 3 of 4

** if you're interested in this film, you already know the ending **

Creation is a biopic giving a glimpse into the crisis of conscience of Charles Darwin, when he could no longer procrastinate publishing his theory of evolution.  The reason (as we now need to be reminded) is that Darwin was raised in a Christian society and well knew he'd be dealing a severe blow to the Bible's primacy as a perspective on the universe.  Darwin (Paul Bettany) was a naturalist, not a dogmatist, and much less sanguine than his acquaintance and foil, Thomas Huxley (Toby Jones), who cheerfully tells him, "You've killed God, sir!"

Darwin's other friends are more gentle in urging him to publish the book we know as On the Origin of Species.  The other key players are Darwin's wife and their daughter.  Jennifer Connelly (also Bettany's wife) plays Emma Darwin as a sincere, rather strict woman whose staunch faith doesn't prevent her from supporting her husband (indeed, when he can't take the pressure any longer, he allows her to make the decision whether to publish).  Tragically, the couple lose their vivacious daughter, Annie.  The resulting grief, combined with the professional worries, makes Charles ill and nearly drives him to madness.

This is a solid film, if a bit staid and conservative, perhaps to balance the still-divisive subject matter.  Although it makes no apologies for celebrating a famous scientist, we also see Charles mocking his own youthful hubris, and there are touches of horror as he realizes his work leaves the universe a messier place than he found it.

Creation is one of those biopics you watch to find out what happened, as opposed to having a cinematic experience.   In that sense it reminded me of The Passion of Ayn Rand with Helen Mirren, and the recent abolitionist film Belle.  The viewer picks up some nuggets about the 19th century, for example, they were very big on "hydrotherapy": standing in torrential showers was supposed to cure various ailments.  That reminded me of a story about director John Huston, how he supposedly overcame a sickly youth by immersing himself in a waterfall.

I think of Darwin as one of the non-Biblicists of the 19th century (into the 20th), along with Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, and Albert Einstein.  All felt at least some guilt or anxiety over their discoveries, although from what I know, Marx's suffering was mostly from not being paid for his work, appropriately enough.

Along with the family drama, we learn that Darwin was actually the co-discoverer of evolution, sharing the accomplishment with Alfred Russel Wallace.  The DVD extras indicate Creation exaggerates for drama at least a bit, but then these are upper-crust Brits, so we shouldn't be surprised they stayed relatively polite even in these epochal circumstances.  It took the Americans to make the theory of evolution into a contact sport.