Paul bettany stretches beyond comfort in Creation
Directed by Jon Amiel
Starring Paul Bettany, Jennifer Connelly, Jeremy Northam and Martha West
Goes well with: Master and Commander, A Beautiful Mind, Proof
Is Charles Darwin's theory of evolution the single most important idea in the history of human thought? That's pretty much where Creation, the new film about the naturalist, starts out. Certainly, this is a guy whose work dramatically changed the way we think about ourselves. Darwin deserves a great performance and a great film. In Creation, he gets one—but not the other.
Paul Bettany is terrific as Darwin. The actor, best known for character roles, has finally been given a thoroughly meaty part, and he makes the most of it. In Darwin, Bettany has created a genuine, sympathetic character, and he's given plenty to work with, because the story of Creation is really Darwin's battle to overcome illness, the distress that publishing his theory will cause his pious wife (Bettany's real-life spouse, Jennifer Connelly) and the overwhelming grief he feels after the death of his daughter, Annie (Martha West). The film is less about the discovery of natural selection and more about how hard it is to write it all down. But Bettany's performance is so humanizing that even though the film doesn't carry the weight Darwin deserves, you're still on his side from beginning to end.
“It's a crime that Paul isn't a world-famous movie star,” director Jon Amiel tells CityBeat. “And it's always exciting, casting people against type. These are choices that make it much more interesting for an audience. They're seeing an actor stretch beyond their comfort zone, and when actors do that, they're scared and they're excited, and there's something you can feel on the screen, from the results of that work.”
Amiel says he set out to make a movie that would be true to Darwin the person rather than Darwin the controversial architect of On the Origin of Species. “We didn't want to make this film into some polemic, political tract, some sort of flag-waving, go-Darwin, sucks-to-all-you-creationists,” he says. “That would have made it much less interesting as a film, and it wouldn't have been faithful to the spirit of Darwin. He would have been appalled that his theories were used by flag-waving atheists. He wanted discussion and debate and understanding and enlightenment but hated controversy and confrontation.”
But can the story of Darwin the man rather than Darwin the controversial figure make an interesting movie? It has its heartbreaking moments, but because Creation is about people and not science, when the human moments don't work, the film drags. Though Bettany is great, Connelly is fairly stiff and one-note in her portrayal of Emma. And Darwin's dead daughter Annie is a presence in the film even though she's totally in his head. It's a cute conceit at first, but, ultimately, it feels clichéd.
That said, it's impossible to separate the man Darwin was from the impact his work has had on the world. Throughout the course of the film, his scientist friends Thomas Huxley (Toby Jones) and Joseph Hooker (Benedict Cumberbatch) implore him to finish his manuscript, telling him that he'll be the one to, literally, kill God. And while there's no doubt that On the Origin of Species has had an enormous impact, there's obviously still an enormous number of people who consider evolution little more than a theory.
“How tragic, really, that that should be the case, given the gigantic amount of scientific evidence, fossil evidence, chemical evidence, biological evidence that has come out in the intervening 150 years to substantiate Darwin's ideas,” Amiel says. “That old creation idea of it [evolution] only being a theory represents a profound misunderstanding of the word ‘theory' as used in scientific circles. Einstein's theory of relativity is only a theory. Pythagoras only came out with a theorem. The fact that it's a theory does not mean that it's purely supposition. To be honest with you, to me, it's as bizarre and inappropriate that Darwin's ideas should be considered—in inverted commas—as controversial as the ideas of Galileo or Newton should be considered controversial.”
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