Mark Reviews Movies


4 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Jon Amiel

Cast: Paul Bettany, Jennifer Connelly, Jeremy Northam, Martha West, Toby Jones, Jim Carter, Benedict Cumberbatch

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for some intense thematic material)

Running Time: 1:48

Release Date: 1/22/10

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Review by Mark Dujsik | January 21, 2010

The Charles Darwin of Creation is a defeated one. A man beset in every facet of his being用hysically, psychologically, and, yes, even spiritually葉he Darwin presented here is frail, tired, and entirely powerless. He is constantly ill. He has delusions of seeing his dead daughter. He can no longer reconcile what the Christian faith of his youth taught of the world's purpose with the scientific studies he has conducted.

This sense of turmoil, his Weltschmerz, is the central thrust of Creation, a remarkably sensitive but unwavering film about finding peace with loss and coming to terms with a world that is cruel, harsh, and, yet, somehow beautiful.

It takes place at a time when Darwin is attempting to write his On the Origin of Species, a work based on what some have called葉he film tells us at the start葉he most important idea in human history and others have deemed a damnable denouncement of a higher power. At least in the United States, we are still, just passing 150 years after its original publication, having this argument, and as a result, Creation had difficulties finding distribution here. It's a strange thought, considering the film only touches upon Darwin's scientific theory.

It is in the way director Jon Amiel uses these passing statements on evolution to externally shape Darwin's inner unrest that make the film powerfully about one's loss of faith and specifically about this man's predicament.

The Darwin of the film, played by Paul Bettany, is a man torn asunder between faith and reason, politics and fact. His colleagues Thomas Huxley (Toby Jones) and Joseph Hooker (Benedict Cumberbatch) plead just short of demanding that Darwin finally sit down and write up his findings after decades of research, from his journey on the HMS Beagle to his work at home with plants and animals. Huxley, assuring him that science is indeed at war with religion, tells him, "You have killed God."

This is not what Darwin wants to hear, and as he confides to his young daughter Annie (Martha West), beyond the other implications of the idea of God having no plan for humanity, it would, above all, "break your mother's heart." Emma Darwin (Jennifer Connelly) is a ferociously devout Christian, respecting her husband's work far short of encouraging it.

Annie is dead. Darwin clings to her memory. He doesn't simply remember her, though; he sees her in his everyday life, talking to her, reasoning with her, and still trying to please her. He has a collection of stories from his travels that she loved to hear while she was alive, and he recounts them for her in his mind, which too easily passes back and forth between delusion and memory. There is no difference for him anymore.

He clings to this, we suspect, for the same reason Emma imagines Annie in heaven. They both, in their own way, refuse the very simple but unbearable fact that she is gone. Emma, excluded from her daughter's last days because of pregnancy, is comforted by her beliefs, while Darwin is haunted by the recollection of his daughter on her deathbed. Emma takes comfort in the local pastor's (Jeremy Northam) theodicy in words of God seeing even a sparrow falling to the ground, while Darwin envisions a mother sparrow accidentally knocking its nest to the ground, leaving its chick to die and rot. We cannot help but connect this thought to another by which he is obsessed: In taking his daughter away for hydrotherapy treatments, he may have had a part in Annie's death. Either way, he was just as helpless as the mother sparrow in saving her from death.

Darwin writes to his wife that the process of losing faith takes time, and he is now at the precipice. John Collee's script (based on the biography by Randal Keynes) concentrates on these ideas, and Amiel wisely and evocatively explores them visually. During one of his hallucinatory states, Darwin has a nightmare of his work literally coming to life, from a collection of finches breaking free from a glass jar to a terrifying image of a human embryo crying out for help from within its formaldehyde enclosure.

His work, as his colleagues and detractors tell him, has dramatic implications for people's understanding of the world and humanity's place within it, and in this nightmare, we see how those inferences directly affect him. Unlike his wife, he cannot force himself to picture Annie at peace in heaven. This is too much for him to bear.

The film effectively and affectively conveys this feeling of anguish in large part due to Bettany's performance, which is full of pain that runs deeper than his physical feebleness and guilt that grows from feelings of failing Annie to disappointing his surviving family. There's a sense of betrayal to responsibilities that he feels for the memory of his daughter, the faith of his wife, the attention of his surviving children (he does not hide the fact that Annie, with her curiosity about science, was his favorite), and the necessity of his work. They are all important, and they all place agonizing weight upon him.

It is a film about loss but it is also, ultimately, one of a man trying to make sense out of universe he has started to suspect is without. Darwin is trying to find purpose, as Annie puts it to her sister after watching a fox kill a rabbit, in a balance. The fox, she consoles her younger sister, has babies to feed just as the rabbit does.

This point comes home in the story of Jenny, a chimpanzee brought from the wild to the London Zoo, where Darwin studied her for a day. Annie always wanted to hear that story, above all the others her father had. "I like it. It makes me sad," she says, as a vision and as she lay dying. As he finishes the story of Jenny's eventual death in the arms of a zookeeper, we realize its importance. In discerning the world around us, feeling something about it, and comprehending both enough to discover the beauty within it, human beings are unique among the population of the planet. That is, by definition, through art.

Creation is about adaptation to circumstance, no matter how difficult. For within individuals, just as in nature, there is opportunity through loss to grow葉o evolve, if you will.

Copyright ゥ 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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