Human side of Darwin shown in flawed Creation
A good idea gets in the way of what could have been a good film in Creation, director Jon Amiel’s account of how Charles Darwin struggled with death and doubt while writing his revolutionary book on evolutionary theory, On the Origin of Species.
The film is based on a biography written by Darwin’s great-great-grandson Randal Keynes, which looks at how Darwin had to deal with both the religious convictions of his wife and the strident atheism of his colleagues while coping with the death of his daughter Annie.
The death of Darwin’s beloved daughter provides a compelling window, at least at first, into the larger issues raised by Darwin’s theory.
For Darwin (as played by Paul Bettany), the ultimate issue at stake is not whether the Book of Genesis should be understood literally, but whether it is possible to make sense of all the random cruelty in God’s creation.
The local minister (Jeremy Northam) assures Darwin that everything in nature follows some sort of plan: God sees the sparrow fall, and all that. But Darwin, convinced that nature is a battlefield between various kinds of organisms, isn’t persuaded by such platitudes.
One remarkable sequence follows his gaze into a bit of dark, shadowy forest where animal feeds upon animal, and a bird that is knocked from its nest becomes food for the maggots in a time-lapse sequence that could have been dreamed up by David Lynch.
The bird that falls and dies, incidentally, seems to be rather young. And that points to one of the film’s other recurring themes, which is the innocence of youth and how it is affected, both intellectually and physically, by the violence inherent in the natural world.
At one point, Darwin encourages his children to watch as a fox kills a rabbit, and while some of them are disturbed by this sight, his bright, inquisitive daughter Annie (Martha West) assures the others that this is all part of “the balance of things.”
And when Annie herself falls ill, Darwin – who has not quite lost his faith yet – asks God to spare her life, “in the name of your child and mine, and in the name of all children.”
Alas, the deeper issues raised by Annie’s death are ultimately obscured by other, more mundane concerns.
On one level, the movie gets carried away by its own cinematic devices; it is one thing to show Darwin talking to Annie’s ‘ghost’ as a way of fleshing out certain themes, but when other characters begin to see him talking to thin air, it takes you out of the movie, as you cannot help but wonder if there is any historical basis for this.
More importantly, the friction between Darwin and his devout wife Emma (played by Bettany’s actual wife Jennifer Con
Not only do we never really get a sense of what makes Emma tick, religiously speaking, but eventually the film loses sight of its larger themes and settles into a series of banal clichés that we’ve seen and heard in countless other movies about married couples arguing and getting back together. nelly) is kept on a rather superficial level.
When Emma finally relents and gives Darwin her tacit permission to publish his work – as we all knew she would – we don’t have any clear idea what spurred her change of heart. Did she find some way to resolve the so-called tension between science and religion? Or did she simply compromise her beliefs for the sake of her marriage?
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With a little more imagination, the movie could have tackled these questions and stimulated some important dialogue around these issues. As it is, any deep discussion that does take place will happen despite the film and not so much because of it.
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Creation isn’t the only movie out there in which Paul Bettany parts ways with God over the impending death of a child. In Legion, he plays the archangel Michael, who rebels against God to defend a pregnant woman when God decides to do away with the human race.
The movie is utterly nonsensical, even on its own terms, but there’s no space to get into that here. So check out my blog for further details.
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Has it really been six years since The Passion of the Christ came out? Apparently it has. And now there’s word that someone might be making a sort of unofficial sequel.
Variety magazine reports that Bill McKay, the writer-producer of the Billy Graham biopic Billy: The Early Years, is developing a movie called The Resurrection of the Christ that may start shooting as early as July.
The film will be distributed by Samuel Goldwyn, a company that has had great success with evangelical films like Facing the Giants and Fireproof.
Perhaps the most interesting name associated with the new movie is that of director Jonas McCord, whose credits include The Body, which starred Antonio Banderas as a priest who investigates the possibility that someone may have discovered the bones of Jesus and thus disproved the resurrection.
That could make for an interesting double feature.