After watching Creation, the film supposedly about Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, one is left wondering what all the American fuss was all about over the film and why it had such trouble securing an American distributor. As one viewer who was looking forward to seeing this film, I almost with it hadn’t.Creation tells the story…or a very limited part of it…of Darwin’s (Paul Bettany) writing of On the Origin of Species. Filmmaker Jon Amiel and screenwriter John Collee take his popularity and controversy among some religious figures for granted and set up an early, clear division between Darwin and the church before ever really explaining…or allowing Darwin to explain…what he was all about. Throughout the film, Darwin is haunted by two things, his emerging text and his deceased daughter, that wreak emotional, mental, and physical havoc on him. Unfortunately, visions of and conversations with his deceased daughter predominate, and the film focuses far too much on his grief and alienation from the rest of his family instead of the creation of his groundbreaking work and the discussions and arguments that no doubt flooded its creation and immediate release. Of course, a film of that nature might appeal to a much smaller audience, but the track that Amiel and Collee finally take should be disappointingly boring to the larger audience to which he hoped to appeal.
Creation has Darwin say a couple of throw-away lines about the ability to retain faith in a higher power while engaging in the practice of science (“There’s still mystery in this…”), but they are far too vacuous in the scheme of things, especially when the only explicitly religious characters vehemently oppose the author and his work or reject their faith in support of it, as the film suggests Darwin’s wife, Emma (Jennifer Connelly), does at the end. Yet another seemingly throw-away line might be an entry point for discussion when Darwin sets out to begin his work. He comments, “I shall leave God out of it….” In what ways could we take this line? Does leaving God out of a scientific work imply that one has to deny the very existence of that higher power? Another plus for the film is the inclusion (even though it is far too lengthy) of his dying and dead daughter and the, what now seem to us primitive, means by which doctors try to cure her. One could interpret the distance from those scientific attempts to the advanced technology and cures at our disposal today as signs of evolution. In what other ways could we “theologically” embrace notions of evolution?
Unfortunately, I doubt we’ll see another Darwin film for a very, very long time. Hopefully, any remake will be an evolutionary leap from this one.
Creation (108 mins) is rated PG-13 for thematic material and is in limited release.