Friday, February 12, 2010
Director: Jon Amiel
Cast: Paul Bettany, Jennifer Connelly
Jeremy Northam, Toby Jones, Martha West, Benedict Cumberbatch
"Creation" opens with the promise of telling us how "the biggest single idea in the history of thought" came to occur.
Said idea is none other than Charles Darwin's publication of "On the Origin of Species" but the film is very far from fulfilling its intellectual promise. What we get instead is a by-the-numbers production that tries to put historical figures in cinematic forms to make us empathize with them.
Here Darwin's (Bettany) genius is reduced to a simplistic battle between religion and science filtered through his feelings for two people. On the science side he has to make justice to his deceased, daughter Anne's (West) memory. Her ghost appears to him constantly and reminds him of all that he taught her about dinosaurs and natural selection.
On the other side he has his wife Emma (Connelly) a devout Christian who questions his need to quarrel with God and separate his family from society.
Where Anne's death (which is told in strange uneven fractured narration) could've been a smart propeller towards intellectual debate (Emma clings to faith while Charles sees science fail) it's turned into a cheap plot device to create tear inducing scenes and melodramatic moments.
Bettany gives a marvelous performance and convinces us of his aging by a mere change in his facial expressions. His inner struggles are much more effective than his loud conversations with Annie's ghost.
The actor is able to tap into a source of creativity that creates brilliance along with frustration. He's immensely watchable even when the screenplay forces him to concentrate more on forced ideas than authentic actions.
Connelly is equally good, perhaps because she's already played this part before (and won a heap of awards for it as well) when we see her dealing with a genius husband who talks to imaginary figures we realize this might just be an 1800's version of "A Beautiful Mind".
When Amiel should've trusted Darwin's ideas to be sufficiently original to catch our interest, he prefers to recur to visually pleasing allegories that try to digest the theories for us.
Therefore when Darwin narrates about his thoughts on sea creatures we see the actual Darwin undergoing hydrotherapy...this unimaginative angle goes as far to make us believe that he actually wrote the book out of a Graham Green-esque vendetta with God.
For a movie about someone who was so fascinated by nature, "Creation" ironically lacks a spark of life.