19th century naturalist Charles Darwin (Bettany) struggles with the decision to publish his world-shaking theory of evolution. Dispute the urgings of his friends, hes discouraged by his devout wife Emma (Connelly), and still haunted by his late daughter,
People get very worked up about creation, as in the conception of existence, having sprogs, and birthing art. All three definitions are explored in Creation, an ambitious, original drama disguised as a middlebrow period piece. Not only does it illuminate the evolutionary icon most people think of as A Beard, it’s arguably the most insightful film about writing since Adaptation. And a fine film about family, too,
The fact that what and how you create can affect your environment has never been more keenly felt than by Darwin as portrayed here. He feared his theory of natural selection — that every species derives from common ancestors — would effectively kill God. And unlike some of today’s atheist ayatollahs — we’re looking at you, Richard Dawkins — Darwin didn’t think this was necessarily a good thing. Suggesting God didn’t bosh out the world in six days and then take a breather, well, it pulled the rug from his own religion and he feared society would fall down. Now we know that didn’t happen, but it’s tribute to the power of Paul Bettany’s performance that you feel his dilemma acutely. He has the A-bomb of ideas. So, creation is an anguished act for Darwin, one it’s suggested nearly destroys him — both through work and reproduction, as he’s really tortured by the death of his first child, Annie (Martha West).
The film slips between two timeframes, one with Darwin as a young father, sharing stories with his beloved daughter, the other with the older man wracked by guilt over her demise and talking to her — a ghost, a vivid figment of imagination? — as he wrestles with whether to write. A different director might have highlighted an element of supernatural threat in her presence — she is, after all, a barrier between Darwin and his wife — but Jon Amiel plays it mostly straight and psychological, with the only off-beat a waking dream sequence that’s somewhat overblown. The trust he places in the performers is fully justified, with Bettany and West sharing a charming, unaffected chemistry — they feel like family. Jennifer Connelly, too, delivers. Hers is the role paid least attention — that of the believer torn between love for God and her husband — and could easily have appeared cold or shrewish. Instead, Emma is full of thought and affection, much like the film itself.
Thoughtful, moving, and Bettany is brilliant. To be reminded of the power of love to redeem and repair, catch Creation.