Film review: Creation

Paul Bettany as Charles Darwin in Creation

{Creation opens in Seattle today, 2/19/2010, at the Metro}

Based on the book “Annie’s Box”, written by Charles Darwin’s great-grandson Randal Keynes, Creation tells the story of Darwin’s life pre-publication of “The Origins of Species”.

You’d think a movie that includes the line “You’ve killed God, sir.” would indicate that the film would mostly examine Darwin’s epic struggle between science and religion as a way of talking about Creation Vs. Evolution and how they could symbiotic…. but it doesn’t, really. The bulk of Creation is about watching a sickly, mostly-bald, laudanum-addicted Charles Darwin hallucinating and talking to the ghost of his dead daughter Annie while struggling to write his book.

I was really hoping for a costume drama that delved into the relationship between Darwin (Paul Bettany) and his devoutly religious wife, Emma (Jennifer Connelly, AKA Mrs. Bettany) – but the script seemed to treat their love as mostly an aside, focusing instead on Charles’s crushing guilt at the knowledge that maybe their daughter (and later, another son) died because his discoveries alert him to the fact that perhaps marrying your first cousin isn’t the best idea in the world.

Throw in some artsy-sped-up-music-videoy shots like a bird falling out of a tree and decomposing, or plants growing, dying, and then rotting – and uh. Well, it left me feeling kind of lost and a little bored.

It’s a shame, because Bettany tries to give his best here. Unfortunately he ends up looking like he’s overdoing it, because all the other characters are so subdued. I could barely mark a change in any of Jennifer Connelly’s strained facial expressions, (although I tend to think that’s because she was actually straining against collapsing from hunger), pivotal characters Reverend Innes (Jeremy Northam) and Thomas Huxley (Toby Jones) are barely even on screen, and everyone else just fades into the background, particularly Annie (newcomer Martha West in her film debut).

I hate to say it, but for a movie about someone as complex and important as Darwin, it’s just not as interesting as it should be. I wish everyone involved had tried a little bit harder, but something tells me they didn’t want to fight against a tide of opposition from the religious right.