Creation is a fantastic film about a man coming to terms with the untimely death of his young daughter. It’s also a rather unfortunate account of the life and work of Charles Darwin. I was invited to see the film before its UK release next week at a special screening in the Science Museum’s IMAX theatre. Going in to the cinema, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Coming out again, I wasn’t quite sure what I’d seen.
Paul Bettany and Martha West as Darwin and his daughter Annie are superb, and I was genuinely moved by their on-screen relationship. But, for every touching father-daughter moment there came scene after scene of Darwin manically running after the ghost of his dead child.
The real Darwin struggled to live with Annie’s death, and suffered throughout his life from a mysterious illness that likely caused him great mental trauma. He was not however stark-raving mad, as the film portrays him, and after the first few interactions with the ghost of Annie, my sense of immersion was shattered.
The film is a dramatisation though, and not a documentary, so some bending of the truth is allowed. I imagine what more people will take issues with is the portrayal of religion. Darwin’s wife Emma, played here by Bettany’s actual wife Jennifer Connelly, was deeply religious, and Darwin delayed publication of his theory for many years because he feared her (and the world’s) response.
This is played out in the film, but perhaps in the most ham-fisted way possible. “Science is at war with religion,” declares Thomas Huxley near the start, and Darwin must win the fight for science.
Why must the theory of evolution always be set against religion in this way? It is perfectly possible to both accept the truth of evolution and believe in God – not a philosophy I ascribe to personally, but nor one I feel the need to constantly assault.
If Creation is meant to convince people of the truth of evolution over God, then it will fail. As the lack of a US distribution deal indicates, those who do not wish to have their minds changed will simply refuse to see it. But if the film is meant to appeal to Darwin’s loyal supporters, then the sight of him raving at the ghost of his daughter is unlikely to please.
Who then is Creation intended for? I don’t know. It’s certainly a film worth seeing; I enjoyed it as a well constructed piece of cinema. I’m just not sure that I liked it.