“You have killed God.”
Or at least that’s the claim made to Paul Bettany, who plays Charles Darwin in director Jon Amiel’s film Creation. And indeed, so much of the film deals with the theological question of God’s existence and the way it complicated Darwin’s life.
Creation is somewhat of a confusing film to watch, as it liberally jumps back and forth in time; therefore, it can be difficult to keep up and understand what’s happening now, and what happened at some point in the past. But the general storyline is easily enough deciphered: Darwin, suffering from the death of his eldest daughter, has fallen ill in both mind and body. He’s not quite crazy, but he’s certainly troubled, and he’s having a hard time completing his masterwork, On the Origin of Species. Meanwhile, his marriage suffers as his faith disintegrates. His wife, played wonderfully by Jennifer Connelly, is a woman of authentic Christian devotion and she fears for his soul. His explosive-and some say sacrilegious-idea also puts him at odds with the Reverend Innes (Jeremy Northam) who finds the concept of evolution to be a dangerous tool of the devil with the potential to lead his flock astray.
For Darwin’s part, he is a hesitant conspirator in the plot to bring his own idea to light. He does not rush headlong into the act, but wrestles with his own conscience and faith throughout the process. However, slowly he comes to realize that whatever belief he once had in the existence of God has been undone by the evidence that stands plainly before him. Therefore, he must act courageously, despite whatever further social difficulties it may introduce into his life.
Anyone who has ever taken religious belief seriously and felt it slip away can understand the struggle. It’s the polar opposition of two forces: the psychological pull of that which you took as fact for years or even decades versus the inescapable and conflicting conclusions about reality that arise by critically observing the world around you. Some handle this well enough, finding the realization to be liberating. Others, however, sink into a deep and relentless depression. Darwin found himself somewhere in the middle.
It’s hard to say that Creation is an entertaining movie. It’s really more interesting than entertaining. That is to say that most moviegoers are more likely to stroke their chins thoughtfully going “ah, interesting” rather than be riveted to the edge of their seats. Some may even be bored. But Paul Bettany does such a good job as Darwin that his performance alone makes the film worth seeing. He certainly does well playing historical characters, as we saw even as far back as 2001 with his turn as Geoffrey Chaucer in A Knight’s Tale.
Whether or not the film is worth your time is a decision that only you can make. Do you like character driven dramas about historical figures wrestling with weighty philosophical questions? If so, then you just might enjoy this film. But if you like your movies to actually go somewhere and move with a purpose then your time is probably better spent with more exciting fare.
Rated PG-13 for some intense thematic material. 108 min.