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CREATION (2010) (***)

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Controversy surrounded this production when it was trying to secure distribution in the U.S. Major studios were afraid of the subject matter. So what is this shocking film about? The life of Charles Darwin whose work on evolution, an accepted scientific fact. This is still too hot to touch 150 years after the publication of his revolutionary book ON THE ORIGIN OF SPECIE? If this movie about a man who loves his daughter is dangerous than we're in danger from something bigger than this film.

In the film, Charles Darwin (Paul Bettany, A BEAUTIFUL MIND) is suffering great physical and mental pain on whether to publish his findings or not. Alfred Wallace has published an essay that proposes the same theory of species evolving over time, but he doesn't have the facts that Darwin has. Nonetheless Darwin is torn. Part of his hesitation is with his wife Emma (Jennifer Connelly, A BEAUTIFUL MIND), a devout Christian, who worries about Charles not spending eternity with her in heaven. But for Charles the facts are too clear and he won't deny them.

The film is made up of debates between Darwin and others, including Rev. John Innes (Jeremy Northam, GOSFORD PARK). But for the most part Darwin holds internal debates with a vision of his dead daughter Annie (Martha West). The death of the girl was a major turning point in the relationship between Charles and his wife, but the film keeps the viewer at an outsider view point. We don't see the problems between Charles and Emma, but hear of them in conversations between Charles and his doctor. There is a powerful confrontation between Charles and Emma toward the end that would have been devastating if we had been witnesses to all the things Charles had told his doctor.

The film works best when it visual demonstrates Darwin's theories in ways that make it seem like common sense. To begin, Darwin tells Annie a tale of a Christian explorer who trades buttons for three tribal children in an effort to give them a better life and save their souls. One dies and the others revert right back to their old culture the second they are reunited with their tribe. The survival of the fittest is painfully displayed on an outing with Darwin and his children when they come upon a fox hunting a rabbit. There's also a great time lapse sequence displaying the circle of life where bugs eat dead animals and animals in turn eat the bugs and when they all die they decompose to feed the plants. In another sequence, Darwin interacts with an orangutan, showing off the intelligence of the animal. Those that deny them as our evolutionary ancestors are deliberately fooling themselves.

This biopic has all it's facts straight, but that's part of its flaws. John Collee's script is more academic than emotional. We spend a great deal of time with Darwin's mental anguish over his daughter, but the way it's presented through fantasy and the non-linear narrative we are left unengaged. The film wants to put Charles and his family life at the center, but keeps us at an arm's length in the way it presents that story. I read that when deciding whether or not to marry Emma, Charles made a pros and cons list. A pro was having a companion in old age. Two cons were not having as much money for books and the terrible loss of time. I want to know what it was like being married to that Charles Darwin. The Alfred Kinsey biopic KINSEY would have been a good model for that, but that's not this film.

In the end, this Charles Darwin biopic is flawed, but enjoyable. Real life couple Bettany and Connelly are excellent. The performances are where the emotion comes from because they convey the internal turmoil well. When looking at paintings of a young Darwin, the resemblance between Bettany in this film and him is striking.

The growing denial of evolution in the U.S. is a disturbing trend. Recent studies have shown that people entrenched in an ideology will only dig in deeper when presented with facts that contradict what they believe whole-heartedly as true. Facts can't beat blind faith it seems. Thank God Darwin was brave enough to open his eyes and challenge the status quo.

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Rick DeMott
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