(2009)2.5Phillip Maher2009 marked the sesquicentennial of Charles Darwin's magnum opus, On the Origin of Species, and while the grand idea put forth by that monumental publication has settled comfortably into the world's collective conscience, the individual parts of the book have been largely forgotten by the general public. Creation, a film which attempts to provide some context for Darwin's revolutionary theory, suffers from the exact opposite problem; while several of the scenes and performances are distinctive and unique, the overall achievement of the film is unremarkable.
Though it would seem obvious that the film should pivot around the relationship between Darwin and his devoutly Christian wife (and first cousin), Emma, played by the husband-and-wife tandem of Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly, it is Darwin's vibrant relationship with another young lady, his daughter Annie, that steals the show. Annie, who is embodied with shimmering brilliance by the actress Martha West in a magnificent debut performance, died when she was only ten years old, and the film (which is based on the memoir Annie's Box, by Darwin descendent Randal Keynes) aims to make a direct connection between this devastating event and Darwin's subsequent decision to publish his portrayal of nature as a realm impervious to pity, where the survival of one creature comes only at the expense of another. This correlation is not only historically tenuous, considering that Darwin had formulated his theory at least ten years prior to Annie's death, but entirely unnecessary to the film's potential impact. In evolutionary terms, this contrived attempt to heighten the significance of Annie's death is the film's superfluous third nipple, since the strongest moments revolve around Darwin's relationship with his daughter while she is very much alive. Despite possessing one of history's greatest minds, Darwin is no intellectual match for his quick-witted daughter, who delights in her dual role as his most exuberant supporter and his most penetrating critic. When Annie dies, the audience's enthusiasm for the film goes with her. Unfortunately, thanks to some truly deficient editing decisions, her death scene, which is the film's emotional climax, is intercut with shots of a dying chimpanzee, such that the bizarre symbolism registers with all the subtlety of an air-raid siren.
In Annie's absence, the film devolves into convention and device, as Darwin hallucinates and babbles to his daughter's ghost, while his wife implores him not to betray her religion. The foundations of Emma's faith are never examined or explained. The audience is expected to accept her religious spirit as a given, as it was ostensibly given to her at one time. Similarly, Darwin's need to explain the wonder of the natural world is simply part of his character description. For all the debate over science and faith, in this film it is the character who actively questions both who provides the only spark of interest.
Actor Paul Bettany and his real-life wife, Jennifer Connelly, star as controversial English scientist Charles Darwin and his wife, Emily, in this biopic adapted from Randal Keynes' book Annie's Box, which tells the story of Darwin's struggle to reconcile his religious views following the death of his beloved daughter, Annie. John Collee adapts Keynes' revelatory tome (Keynes is Darwin's great-great grandson) for director Jon Amiel.