Creation (2009)

(On DVD, October 2010) I’m far too cynical to label any film as a “public service”, but the nature of Creation in today’s hyper-politicized controversy over evolution is such that I can’t help but admire the contribution that a well-made drama can bring to the public understanding of the man behind one of the most fundamental ideas of all times.  A heavily dramatized account of the years Charles Darwin spend perfecting the manuscript for On the Origins of Species, Creation delivers a portrait of the icon as an immensely fallible man, tormented by visions of a dead daughter and debilitating convictions of heresy.  It is, in many ways, a depiction of Darwin influenced by his critics, and yet a revealing look at a time where people thought very differently.  The film wasn’t widely screened in theaters for reasons that soon become obvious to casual viewers: This is a film not of outer action, but inner struggles and the clash of new concepts.  Like many works of primary interest to intellectual audiences, it presents ideas as inherently interesting and studies how people are affected by them.  (Don’t tell anyone, but that’s as good a definition of Science Fiction as any).  It’s not really helpful to add that the film is slow, contemplative and occasionally grating from a contemporary perspective.  At times, overly-dramatic Creation seems to play more as a pre-emptive answer to Darwin’s critics rather than a celebration of the scientist himself.  But there are a few standout sequences in the mix (an accelerated view of how species interact in nature is particularly good), while both Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly are effective in their roles.  It all amounts to a film that will be presented in classrooms for a long time, and serve as a reminder that cinema can occasionally rise to the occasion and deliver a compelling celebration of human thought.

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