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Creation (2009)

November. 05,2009
| Drama History

A psychological, heart-wrenching love story that provides a unique and inside look at Charles Darwin. Torn between faith and science, he struggles to finish his legendary book "On the Origin of the Species," which goes on to become the foundation for evolutionary biology.


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"For God is deaf nowadays, and will not hear us, and for our guilt he grinds good men to dust." - William Langland Jon Amiel directs "Creation". Focusing on the final years in the life of Charles Darwin, the film was based on a novel by Randal Keynes, Darwin's own great-great grandson.The 19th century saw the Church having to fend off the teachings of what it deemed an Unholy Trinity: Sigmund Freud, Charles Darwin and Karl Marx. By situating human beings within a biological, psycho-socio-economic and eventually genetic context, the schools of thought spawned by this trio would become increasingly vital for the examination of human beings. But for the Church, these teachings were perverse, sacrilegious and threatening.Darwin's findings were perhaps the most disturbing of the three. He synthesised the work of his predecessors and, together with his own research, formed a kind of unified theory of evolution. Suddenly, living things were not created by a supreme being, but were the constantly morphing products of accidental mutation, adaptation and natural selection.The narcissistic illusions of man were further trampled by Freud. If Darwin became the precursor to modern behavioural genetics, Freud, whose models anticipated today's cognitivist-neurobiologist models of the human mind, became the precursor to modern neuroscience. Suddenly humans were seen to be, not rational beings in full control of their actions and desires, but fickle things governed by unconscious drives, socio-cultural forces, ideological assumptions and a concept of "self" that is largely fictional. More than this, Freud showed how society as a whole is a kind of magnified product of such drives, neuroses and psychoses.But for the ruling class, Marx was perhaps the most dangerous. For Marx, economic systems buffet human behaviour, and give rise to and directly influence most other social phenomena, including social relations, political and legal systems, morality and ideology. Like an organism with drives of its own, Marx also demonstrated the contradictions inherent to capitalism, contradictions which themselves give rise to various observable phenomenon.Like Copernicus, who demonstrated that the Earth moves around the Sun, this Unholy Trio deprived humans of their central place in the universe. But Jon Amiel's "Creation" deals with the existential turmoil such findings exerted on Charles Darwin (Paul Bettany) specifically. It watches as Darwin struggles to write "On the Origin of the Species", the content of which troubles him, his family and wife, the latter of whom is portrayed as a Christian woman."There's something terrible about reality, but I don't know what it is," a character says in Michaelangelo Antonioni's "Red Desert", one of cinema's great existential pictures. In "Creation", Darwin confronts something similar. He becomes super-conscious, now intimately aware of a cosmos that is awash with murder, cruelty, death and decay, "endless forms most beautiful" scrambling over one another, perpetually locked in coitus and carnage. These revelations sicken him, nauseate him, take a toll on his mind and body, but he refuses to renounce his beliefs, beliefs which pit him against a 19th century England that is largely religious.Unlike modern films which attempt to portray spiritual or existential crises ("Melancholia", "Anti-Christ" etc), "Creation" is sensitive, touching, doesn't resort to kitschy aesthetic strategies, and conveys well the quiet turmoil which accompanies such depressing periods. The film co-stars a miscast Jennifer Connelly as Darwin's wife, a woman who watches as her husband cuts himself off from his family and slips further and further into his own morbid thoughts."Creation" works well as a kind of existential chamber play; think Bergman's "Cries and Whispers" with a dollop of science. It's also elevated by a good script by John Collee. Unfortunately director Jon Amiel is mostly a hack – though this remains his best work – and the film ultimately rushes through, and so does a disservice to, Darwin's real life-story. Every inch of Darwin's life, after all, was rich and endlessly fascinating, from his oceanic adventures, to his conflicts with his father, to his explorations of South America, to his life aboard the HMS Beagle, to the colorful scientists, artists, royals, tribesmen and seamen he met, to his relationship with his captain, the great Robert Fitzroy (a pioneer in his own right), to his military skirmishes, to his role in various political coups, and of course to his contributions to science and philosophy. The political situation in England during Darwin's time was also fascinating – a period rocked by much social unrest, riots, and squabbles between parliament, labour and capital – a political situation which only made Darwin's relationship with Fitzroy all the more cool. Fitzroy was a Tory, Christian, conservative and relative to royals. Darwin, in contrast, was a Whig, liberal and relative of notable scientists (Erasmus Darwin et al) and abolitionists. The duo would have many riveting discussions, often about religion, science, slavery, class struggles and morality, and both rubbed off on one another, intellectually and physically (the Beagle was tiny), in fascinating ways. Fitzroy would commit suicide shortly after Darwin published "Species", his dear friend's findings allegedly pushing him into depression and spurring him to drive a blade into his neck.Incidentally, "Creation's" release coincided with the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth. That same year, the British Council conducted a poll surveying attitudes about Darwin around the world. To the question, "is there scientific evidence to support Darwin's theory of evolution?" 77% of Indians, 72% of Chinese and 65% of Mexicans answered yes; only 41% of Americans did. The film struggled to find a US distributer.8/10 - See "The Voyage of Charles Darwin" (1978).

Roedy Green

Creation (what an ironic title) is about Darwin's life prior to the publishing of On the Origin Of the Species. Paul Bettany (Silas the albino monk in the Da Vinci Code, Charles in A Beautiful Mind) plays Darwin. He is on screen almost the entire movie. Darwin has all manner of troubles. He is physically ill. He has tremors, hallucinations and phobias. Behind it all is his terror of Christians and their extreme rejection of his life work. He is no hero. He has not the bravery to tell the Christians where to stuff it. Without a combative nature, it is just too difficult to oppose almost the entire society. Even his wife disapproves of his work.The movie is also about the primitive state of medicine in Victorian times. Darwin loses his bright inquisitive daughter despite all the inept attempts to cure her. In hindsight, they did more harm than good.The special effects of the hallucinations remind me of those in a Beautiful Mind, where, like the characters, you have trouble keeping track of what is real. They could have used some hallucinations with morphing to illustrate his insight about gradual change, but they didn't.Unfortunately, the movie does almost nothing to explain evolution, other than making a parallel between artificial and natural selection. Neither does it show the debates. I read the book in the 1960s. Its placid prose gave no hint of the sturm and drang lay behind its composition.Benedict Cumberbatch plays Joseph Hooker, a very charming character, who played a big part in Darwin's life. Unfortunately, he was on screen only briefly.I suspect the low ratings of this movie have two sources: creationists who rejected it without even bothering to see it, and because it is just so sad seeing Darwin, considered the greatest scientist of all time, suffer at the hands of ignorant Christians.


If You are looking for an Educational Exploration of Darwin's Theory, it is not here. There is very Little Science or Transitional Thought. There is almost No Insight into the Discovery or Development of His Belief Shattering Breakthrough; the Theoretical Thesis that would forever Change the Direction and Dogma of Spirituality, or His Ability to Accurately Articulate the Dismantling of such a Powerful Paradigm as Creationism in its many Forms.It is Replaced with the Extinction of his Mental Stability brought on by both His Heresy and the Death of his Young Daughter and the Emotional Evolution of His ability to Cope with the Stress. It's all very Touching and We have much Empathy, but this Poorly Titled Movie is far too Off Course to be anything but a Romantic Tragedy and Ironically, Heartfelt Humanism.


It's funny, I just realized there aren't too many films about evolution. There are thousands of films about war, thousands about crime, and zillions about love. You'd think the most fundamental question of human existence, "how the heck did we get here?", would be addressed more often."Creation" is presented as a biopic about Charles Darwin, but its real strength is the way it opens the debate of evolution vs. creationism, seeing how the debate still hasn't been settled in the 150 years since Darwin published "Origin of Species".The film's interesting approach is that it doesn't slam you over the head with propaganda, though it is definitely pro-evolution. For the most part it presents the basics, it presents what Darwin believed, it presents the opposing sentiment, and it leaves it up to us to continue debating with our friends & enemies.I believe it steers a safe enough course that creationists can enjoy it for its story, the same way believers in evolution and even atheists can watch "The Ten Commandments" and not be offended by its underlying fundamentalism (unless they're seriously constipated). "Creation" is a family-friendly film containing an interesting story, romance, drama and some good values regardless of your views on the almighty or lack thereof.There are some staggering points made in the movie, such as Darwin talking about how, in nature, millions of lives are lost for every 1 that thrives. He punctuates the thought by saying "Don't you find that a bit wasteful?"I give the filmmakers bonus points for tackling this subject which, as I said up top, isn't often tackled. I do want to take this opportunity to remind you that the ultimate, greatest film about evolution is, and always shall be, "2001: A Space Odyssey". That's a film that presents compelling arguments for all viewpoints, and it does it without stepping on anyone's toes. If you enjoy "Creation", you should immediately follow it with "2001". Then watch your head asplode.