Kimball's Peak Three
"You've killed God, sir!" and "Good riddance to the old bugger!" So say Thomas Huxley and Joseph Hooker, scientist pals of Charles Darwin, as Creation opens. They're trying to convince the naturalist to record on paper his thoughts on biological inheritance, which remove the need for supernatural forces from the equation.
But Darwin is hesitating, in fact, for precisely the reason they're egging him on: He fears what his theory will mean for those — such as his beloved wife — who rely on religious faith.
A century and a half after Darwin did finally write his game-changing book, The Origin of Species, God is still flourishing, so perhaps Darwin needn't have worried. That God continues to hold his own, despite the revolution in understanding of the natural world that Darwin's work ignited, may explain why there hasn't been a movie like Creation before now. Charles Darwin is arguably one of the most important philosophical parents of our culture, and yet we've told few stories about him.
And this gentle movie — it's downright unassuming, considering his impact — is about Darwin the man, and by extrapolation about science as a human endeavor, one as noble, contradictory and, sometimes, wrenching as making great art or journeying to unknown lands. There is nothing in the least "heroic" about Paul Bettany's half-sensitive, half-tetchy portrayal of a man at odds with himself, his intellect, and the unfairness of life. And there's nothing in the least portentous in director Jon Amiel's presentation of it.
This is not a tale of looking back in awe at The Great Man, and his tremendous scholarly feat (which is perhaps a tad ironic, since it's based on the book Annie's Box, by Darwin's great-great grandson Randal Keynes). The only things looming over this Darwin are his own fear, worry and reluctance.
John Collee's script moves fluidly across a decade of Darwin's life as a young naturalist, husband and father. He's already been to the Galapagos, where he hoarded observations, made notes and collected specimens, but he hasn't yet begun to organize his notions. He is held back, on one hand, by grief over the death of his daughter, Annie (Martha West), who died at age 10; his heartache seems to exacerbate the health complaints that often incapacitate him. Annie appears to Darwin at times — not in any supernatural way, but in the way that loved ones linger in our memories, so that talking with them seems natural — and she, a spirited young scientist herself, eventually, softly, pushes him toward his work.
And then there is Darwin's wife, Emma (Bettany's real-life wife, Jennifer Connelly), a devout Christian who fears for her husband's soul as a result of his "God-killing" work. The couple is already somewhat estranged after Annie's death, and he fears to upset her even more.
But — and this is the quiet, lovely, tough core of Creation — fact is fact, and wishing it away or pretending it doesn't exist are pointless. This is a movie about what it means to be a scientist: You observe the world and explain how the pieces fit together. Sometimes the conclusions aren't pleasant, but that doesn't make those conclusions untrue, or unworthy of further investigation, and confirmation or refutation.
And it never means that scientists don't care about the impact of their work. This Darwin is a man to whom love and honor continue to matter a great deal. Even after he's killed God.