'Creation' explores Darwin's dark side

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BY CARLY STEINBERGER
For the Daily
Published March 16, 2010

“Creation” focuses on a lesser-known portion of the life of Charles Darwin, veering away from a simply biographical account. Instead of touching on his countless zoological endeavors and his development of evolutionary theory, the film, based on the novel “Annie’s Box” by Randall Keynes (Darwin’s great-great grandson), takes a more emotional approach. Director Jon Amiel chooses to highlight Darwin’s struggle to accept his own conclusions.

"Creation"


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Throughout the film, Darwin (Paul Bettany, “The Da Vinci Code”) labors over writing his famous work, “On the Origin of Species,” recognizing that his theories challenge the existence of God. While he believes his findings to be correct, he fears them and questions whether they should be shared with the public. This bubbling anxiety drives him to near insanity and physical illness. His pious wife Emma (Jennifer Connelly, “A Beautiful Mind”), further contributes to his doubts. All the while, the ghost of his deceased daughter deepens his mental instability.

The bulk of the film depicts Darwin’s descent into madness. The tone is initially cerebral, though that quickly diminishes in favor of a distinctly morbid air. Advancing the dismal mood is the depressing score, dark lighting and Darwin’s constant interaction with the imaginary. He dreams up everything from the spirit of his daughter to re-animated stuffed birds. At times the film seems to teeter a bit too much into the horror-inspired, as eerie montages showcasing both fictional and actual events flash before Darwin’s eyes, fueling his torment.

“Creation” sets itself apart from typical, reverent biopics by attempting to portray a true genius as someone with human qualities and flaws. We see Darwin as a family man who seeks involvement in his children’s lives (though not at the climax of his madness) and is concerned for his wife’s feelings. Yet, the combination of the writing and Bettany’s performance takes the emotions to an almost unrealistic level — it’s as if Darwin has no strength at all. He seems too plagued by his insanity to ever have conceived possibly the most revolutionary theory in all of history.

The lack of mental progression within the film is also disconcerting. While Darwin grows to better handle his anxiety, his state of mind remains relatively stagnant. The man is still torn between promoting his research — which in his heart of hearts he believes to be correct — and avoiding the consequences of challenging established religion. He even consults his wife, and while she gives him her opinion, it’s still a bit unclear as to whether Darwin is completely sold on his own findings.

While “Creation” shows the softer side of Darwin, it’s very easy for the viewer to forget while watching the film the great impact of his accomplishments. It’s almost as if the film could be about any insanity-stricken man and there never was an evolution revolution.