Last night (after crepes) we went to see the 7:05pm showing of Creation at the Landmark Sunshine. We got there early because I imagined that it would be packed. It’s a film that struggled to get a US distributor because it is about Charles Darwin – surely that is a no brainer for a packed out art house cinema in the East Village. Apparently not, and I can only hope that word of mouth lifts the profile of this film. It is excellent. A thoughtful, layered drama about Charles Darwin’s struggle/journey to write On the Origin of the Species and deal with the death of his eldest child, Annie.
It quite brilliantly weaves in flashbacks of Darwin travels and observations as a natural philosopher as the story unfolds with his crisis of conscious over the lost of Annie and that his theory has discredited the teachings of the bible. This is not a heavy handed Richard Dawkins/Christopher Hitchins diatribe. It’s a gentle yet brutal portrayal of Darwin as a man who has opened Pandora’s box. There is no return to a state of blind acceptance of Genesis when armed with evidence to the contrary. This is one of the best films that I have seen Paul Bettany in for a long time, and it worked well having Jennifer Connelly as his wife Emma (though she did remind me of Gina McKee who would have made a good Mrs Darwin as well).
Alex and I got quite indignant over Entertainment Weekly only giving it a C- and for it’s bitchy review. I was actually relieved that this film didn’t focus on Darwin’s travels on the H.M.S. Beagle as I felt that was ground that has been adequately covered elsewhere, and it is naive to imagine that there was one ‘ah-ha’ moment in Darwin’s studies and that it would be interesting enough for a film. Trust me I have a degree in geology and the scene with Darwin on the beach with his children learning about sedimentary rocks is about as rock ‘n’ roll as it gets (funnily enough geology is not like The Core or Volcano). Also, to boil Darwin down to one single moment is to do a disservice to his lifetime of study. Darwin was a polymath, something that has sadly been lost (or perhaps discouraged) in our culture. It was his years of travels and observations that gave him the lens with which to view the natural world. He didn’t wake up one morning with the idea fully formed. It took years and years (and many pigeon carcasses) to greenhouse it. Probably a good time to note that Sir Isaac Newton most likely had an inkling about gravity before the apple hit him on the head. If there ever was an apple, and it wasn’t just a dinner party anecdote.
This film is fascinating because it deals with the personal aftermath of Darwin’s theory. The toll it took on his health, his psyche and his family. The guilt that he had destroyed god (and perhaps with it civilisation) is a lot for one man to bear in the 19th century (look how Topher went loopy in the Dollhouse after his technology actually destroyed humanity).