Losing His Religion
The name Charles Darwin has now become synonymous with the Theory of Evolution, and it carries with it all the controversy that scientific view engenders. One of the natural goals of Creation, then, would be to humanize Darwin, while at the same time not shying away from the subject that makes him notorious. This sounds like a tough task, but Jon Amiel's film handles it well by focusing on a tragic event in Darwin's life -- one with a major effect on him even years later as he prepared to write his magnum opus, On the Origin of Species.
In summary, Darwin (Paul Bettany) has lost his beloved oldest daughter (Martha West, who's wonderful), which has not only caused him much anguish but also created an unspoken rift between himself and his wife (Jennifer Connelly). Unable to find closure and becoming physically ill, he has difficulty completing his book, one his devout Christian wife would likely disapprove of but which his daughter would have embraced, since she followed her father's teachings devotedly.
Creation does fall back on conventions for its storytelling, from little things -- like the frequent use of flashbacks, the colleagues who hound him and stress the importance of his works, a descent into madness where Darwin continually envisions his dead daughter admonishing him -- to the larger picture that this is mainly a grief movie about people who can't get on with their lives until they make peace with themselves. But the film does have something rather insightful to offer about a subject that, I believe, doesn't get addressed often. In fully accepting and, at times, articulating Darwin's evolutionary point of view, it is unapologetic to the Christian viewer, which is very much the correct approach, but then it takes this a few steps further to show how challenging it is not to simply accept this point of view, but to fully live with it.
In the film, Darwin is shown losing his faith in religion and becoming more adamantly assured of the coldness of nature, but to say it's cold and to embrace it are two different things. A few sequences, such as the story of the captive orangutan named Jenny and the very effective time-lapse shot of a dead chick, emphasize the difficulty of being secure in the idea that nature contains no divinity, especially when one is brought up in an environment surrounded by people who believe in a higher power by default. Darwin getting over his daughter's death and seeking the approval of his wife are analogous to gaining the courage to bear convictions that would challenge the beliefs of the majority of society.
If Creation might not stand out in other ways, it at least gives a well-approximated glimpse into the self-actuated challenges experienced by atheists and agnostics; popular opinion may see such persons as defiant and mocking, but most likely they were unable to help starting out in a position of doubt. The movie shows that all faith, any faith, is made stronger through questioning and emotional trial.
(Released by Lionsgate and rated "PG-13" for some intense thematic material.)
Review also posted at www.windowtothemovies.com.