Last year, Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday became the perfect occasion for revisiting the legacy of the “discoverer” of evolution, a general swim into which the film Creation fell, and it’s now just making its way into theaters hereabouts. What makes the uneven but often intriguing Creation so fascinating is its taut focus and point of reference. We get hints of Darwin’s past, from his fateful, theory-feeding trip to the Galapagos to his family life in England, and a postscript taste of life after On the Origin of Species.
But the film thankfully avoids the usual biopic blandness by restraining its focus to a more singular idea: the pressure Darwin felt before unleashing his evolution theory upon the world, specifically to the devout religious views of his loving wife. While procrastinating on finishing his book, he explains, “I will try to keep God out of it, although he may see it as a personal attack.”
Paul Bettany gives a strong and necessarily fragile performance as a man obsessed, then traumatized as his young daughter falls ill in the midst of his angst. Jennifer Connelly (Bettany’s wife, in real life) may or may not be typecast here, playing another long-suffering spouse to an obsessive genius, as she did in A Beautiful Mind. Still, her character plays a unique role as part of the soul-searching apparatus keeping Darwin on edge.
Too much of the time, Creation feels unfocused, better in its parts than as a whole. But it is nonetheless appealing on many levels, including the idea of an intimate glimpse behind a history- and humanity-altering moment.