Creation (2009)


  Our rating: 3 out of 5
Rated: PG13
  
Reviewer: Charity Bishop
     
During the reign of Queen Victoria, a man by the name of Charles Darwin changed the face of history forever with his theory of evolution. Creation is the tale of his pursuit of this belief, in the aftermath of terrible loss, and the impact it had on his marriage.
 
How long does it take for someone's faith to wane and perish completely? That is a question Darwin (Paul Bettany) is pondering as he watches his life crumble around him. Depressed and seriously ill, he cannot seem to muster the time and energy to pay attention to his children or even share more than a platonic affection with his wife, Emma (Jennifer Connelly). He has ceased to show interest in church and rarely spends more than a few seconds at the dinner table, before retreating back to his room and his endless musings on the meaning of life. His friend Joseph Hooker (Benedict Cumberbatch) believes his melancholy may have something to do with his theories, which have been locked in a trunk for a number of years out of deference to his devout wife. Darwin has been speculating on the origins of life and come with an alternate theory that threatens to, as his wife puts it, eternally separate him from God.
  
In short, he believes creatures have evolved over millions of years rather than were divinely created in a week's time. This view is enthusiastically shared by Thomas Huxley (Toby Jones), who pushes him to finish writing his book and have it published. But as his health languishes and he experiences memories of former happiness prior to a devastating personal loss, it is feared that pondering these things -- or writing about them -- may bring on a premature death. Of course, the audience knows from the offset that Darwin recovers enough to write his book and publish it, much to the distress of his local minister (Jeremy Northam), but the approach in reaching that point is intriguing to anyone unfamiliar with his personal life. Having not studied Darwin as an individual, I had no knowledge of his relationships and trials prior to this film and will admit that it gave me understanding as to the reason for forming his theories. Grief, resentment, and anger at God all play a role in his ultimate decisions and it is terribly sad to see the story unfold. Few films grip me on such a deeply sorrowful level, but this one left dark fingerprints on my soul. I deeply empathized with his pain and it made me mourn for a man who chose to bury his grief in science and work rather than in attempting to heal. It is, however, important to note that he does find some relief, and he and his wife reconcile in the second half, in a gut-wrenching confrontation.
  
The film is beautifully photographed and contains equally elegant acting, especially from the two leads and a young woman named Martha West, who plays their daughter Annie. She has a radiant on-screen presence that tugs at our hearts. I do not want to say much pertaining to certain aspects of the plot for fear it will reveal too much but the integration of reality, dreams, memories, and hallucinations is particularly moving. However, it also can make the film difficult to follow if one is not paying close attention to Darwin's age. Where the movie stands, yes, it is going to be controversial and depending on how offended you are by Darwin's theories, it may bruise you a bit. There are some particularly spiteful comments made about the Church, and an early story Darwin tells to his daughter reveals the absurd, cruel, and ineffectual methods used in an attempt to domesticate and evangelize the natives. (Three children are bought from them for beads, taught manners, and then sent back to their families -- all at once, losing what they have learned and reverting to their roots. Darwin seems to enjoy gloating over that fact.) Other characters show enthusiasm for challenging the antiquated idea of Creation in favor of Evolution, one of them claiming that Darwin has successfully "killed God."
 
There are some very heart-wrenching scenes discussing death and the pointlessness of existence, which may raise questions about why God permits some things to happen.   While there are a few content concerns to mention, one of the things I disliked most about the film was the inclusion of animal cruelty in order to underline Darwin's theory. Some examples include watching a baby bird fall from its nest and die (one of many montages that show things sped up in evolution, how death and life interact -- animals die, bugs eat them, etc). Darwin's assistant removes a dove from its cage and snaps its neck. (Darwin makes a practice of killing birds to study their remains.) The most grotesque moment includes watching a red fox catch and kill a bunny, and listening to it "scream." One of his little daughters is present and has a crying fit, begging her daddy to stop it -- but of course he doesn't. Other things that might disconcert audiences is occasional profanity, some thematic elements (which includes a death), and a surprising amount of nudity. Native children run around in loincloths, revealing most of their naked backsides -- we later see all of their naked backsides, as they run away from the camera down a beach (one boy is carried out of the hospital ward on a cot, and we see his bare backside as well). From an overhead and slightly behind shot, we see Darwin naked in a medicinal shower -- several times. There's no sexual content, but there is a scene of him and his wife cuddling in bed, in which we see her bare back.
 
Whether or not you agree with Darwin's theories, this is an interesting and moving look at his life -- but like me, you may find yourself at times overwhelmed with a deep and terrible sadness. It's difficult to explain but my emotion was one of intense grief at the loss of a soul. For that reason, I doubt I will ever watch it a second time.