Movie Review: Creation (2009)

Quote by Charles Darwin

“As a child, I often wrote deliberate nonsense to surprise others.”

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There are not major spoilers in this review!

The Facts about Creation

Creation is a biographical drama about Charles Darwin’s middle years.  During this time he was experiencing mental distress in the form of hallucinations due to his daughter dying, but still having enough mental acuity to work on a theory that would become “On the Origin of Species.”  In addition to his guilt of marrying his first cousin (think back to the Habsburg royal line that ended due to interbreeding), while not as catastrophic, he wrestled with the fact it might have caused the death of his daughter, Annie.  His relationship with his wife, Emma, became somewhat strained due to this.  She found comfort playing the piano while he immersed himself further into his work.  This movie is about the dichotomy of science and religion, life and death, and separation and connection.  The main actors are Paul Bettany as Charles Darwin, Martha West as Annie Darwin, Jennifer Connelly as Emma Darwin, Toby Jones as Thomas Huxley, Benedict Cumberbatch as Joseph Hooker, Ian Kelly as Captain FitzRoy, and Jeremy Northam as Reverend Innes.  It is written by John Collee and Jon Amiel and based on the book by Randal Keynes.  It is directed by Jon Amiel, rated PG-13 for some intense thematic material, and has a running time of one hour and 48 minutes.

From Ship to Land

The movies starts with the strong relationship of father and daughter, Charles and his oldest daughter, Annie.  He continues his strong bond with her through bedtime stories and spending time with her outdoors, teaching her about nature and evolution.  Annie is much like her father, challenging what she is told and Charles protects her fiercely.  It is only Emma that can instill reason within him, but that too wanes over time.  As his illness brings more hallucinations, he struggles to write his theory of evolution on paper.  It doesn’t help that his religious wife also opposes his beliefs and their friend Thomas Huxley disagrees as well.  He visits a hospital to help with this hallucinations and returns with a newfound energy to push forward with his evolutionary theory.  When he is finally done, he allows Emma to read it and will accept what she decides.  The fate of his work is in her hands.  If she feels it is worthy,  it has a chance of being published.  If she feels it is too controversial, no one else will ever read it.  Despite his health at this time, he lives until 1882 and dies at the age of 73 (the movie doesn’t show this).  If you want a read the complete list of Darwin’s works, it is below from Wikipedia.
  • 1829–1832. [Records of captured insects, in] Stephens, J. F., Illustrations of British entomology
  • 1835: Extracts from Letters to Henslow (Read at a meeting of the Cambridge Philosophical Society on 16 November 1835, with comments by John Stevens Henslow and Adam Sedgwick, and printed for private distribution dated 1 December 1835.  Selected remarks had been read by Sedgwick to the Geological Society of London on 18 November 1835, and these were summarised in Proceedings of the Geological Society published in 1836.  Further extracts were published in the Entomological Magazine and, with a review, in the Magazine of Natural History.  A reprint was issued in 1960, again for private distribution.)
  • 1836: A LETTER, Containing Remarks on the Moral State of TAHITI, NEW ZEALAND, &c. – BY CAPT. R. FITZROY AND C. DARWIN, ESQ. OF H.M.S. ‘Beagle.
  • 1838–1843: Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle: published between 1839 and 1843 in five Parts (and nineteen numbers) by various authors, edited and superintended by Charles Darwin, who contributed sections to two of the Parts:
    • 1838: Part 1 No. 1 Fossil Mammalia, by Richard Owen (Preface and Geological introduction by Darwin)
    • 1838: Part 2 No. 1 Mammalia, by George R. Waterhouse (Geographical introduction and A notice of their habits and ranges by Darwin)
  • 1839: Journal and Remarks (The Voyage of the Beagle)
  • 1842: The Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs
  • 1844: Geological Observations on the Volcanic Islands visited during the voyage of H.M.S. Beagle
  • 1846: Geological Observations on South America
  • 1849: Geology from A Manual of scientific enquiry; prepared for the use of Her Majesty’s Navy: and adapted for travellers in general., John F.W. Herschel ed.
  • 1851: A Monograph of the Sub-class Cirripedia, with Figures of all the Species. The Lepadidae; or, Pedunculated Cirripedes.
  • 1851: A Monograph on the Fossil Lepadidae, or, Pedunculated Cirripedes of Great Britain
  • 1854: A Monograph of the Sub-class Cirripedia, with Figures of all the Species. The Balanidae (or Sessile Cirripedes); the Verrucidae, etc.
  • 1854: A Monograph on the Fossil Balanidæ and Verrucidæ of Great Britain
  • 1858: On the Tendency of Species to form Varieties; and on the Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of Selection (Extract from an unpublished Work on Species)
  • 1859: On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life
  • 1862: On the various contrivances by which British and foreign orchids are fertilised by insects
  • 1865: The Movements and Habits of Climbing Plants (Linnean Society paper, published in book form in 1875)
  • 1868: The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication
  • 1871: The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex
  • 1872: The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals
  • 1875: Insectivorous Plants
  • 1876: The Effects of Cross and Self Fertilisation in the Vegetable Kingdom
  • 1877: The Different Forms of Flowers on Plants of the Same Species
  • 1879: “Preface and ‘a preliminary notice'” in Ernst Krause’s Erasmus Darwin
  • 1880: The Power of Movement in Plants
  • 1881: The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms
Watch the Trailer

Overall View of Creation

I’d say the thing missing from Creation is the focus on natural selection and evolution.  Of course, we all know the basics of it, but it would’ve been nice to see Paul Bettany as Darwin formulate these thoughts in a few scenes.  It wouldn’t need to be extensive.  The thing overly used were the scenes with Darwin waking up from nightmares.  Yes, he missed his daughter, but it’s pretty clear the first time he felt this way.  The movie did well to show the differences between Charles and Emma, but the nuance wasn’t there.  He was still a religious person although not as devoted as his wife.  There’s a good scene with him and Emma after Annie gets in trouble at school.  It shows he is a protective father more than anything else.  This nods to the powerful performance of Paul Bettany as Charles Darwin.  The audience is invited into the life of the Darwins, but I wanted to see more fluid transition among Charles Darwin’s time onboard the H.M.S. Beagle and time conceiving natural selection.  It maybe could’ve been done through usage of voice over.  There was a time-lapse shot and while I wasn’t bothered it, it might remind some of a video shown on a projector in a classroom.  By the end, I took away Darwin was a complex family man and scientist who was equally affected by responsibilities and achievements.

I rate Creation THREE FINGERS of GOOD at 80%.

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