There are few names that spark such heated argument between religious and scientific communities as that of Charles Darwin. The English naturalist’s theory on evolution was even at the heart of a Tennessee Supreme Court case that pitted high school biology teacher John Scopes against the state of Tennessee.
However, the movie Creation is far less concerned with Charles’ (Paul Bettany) actual theories or a detailed account of his research procedures, than it is with the personal and family struggles he faced. And regardless of which side of the debate viewers fall on, the film offers a poignant look at the evolution of the man himself.
The scientist’s wife, Emma (played by Bettany’s real life wife Jennifer Connelly), holds strong religious ideals and is persistent in passing them on to their children. Meanwhile, as Charles delves deeper into his research, he finds himself wandering further and further from the theological teachings of his childhood. As the gap widens in the couple’s beliefs, the strain on their marriage becomes increasingly evident.
Charles’ discoveries on the development of different species seem to initiate his questions about a Supreme Being. Yet his real struggle is set in motion when his 10-year-old daughter Annie (Martha West) dies, even after the naturalist has made an impassioned bargain with God for her recovery. The loss impacts almost every facet of his life including his work, his health and his relationship with Emma and their other children. The ghost of Annie haunts him continually, showing up in his office or by his side while he is working. The apparition is certainly a manifestation of his grief, but may also be the result of Charles’ regular use of Laudanum, an opium-based painkiller meant to counter the effects of his deteriorating health.
Egged on by Thomas Huxley (Toby Jones), the man attributed with coining the term "agnostic", and Joseph Hooker (Benedict Cumberbatch), a surgeon and botanist, Darwin pursues his theories causing a rift between the local reverend (Jeremy Northam) and himself. But even as he pens his famous book On the Origin of the Species, Darwin appears hesitant to accept Huxley’s praise for killing God.
Replete with beautiful cinematography and strong performances by the cast, Creation is a production that will likely spark more discussion between opposing sides. While religion is negatively portrayed in much of this script, the depictions of the medical procedures of the era prove that science wasn’t without its own problems. Practitioners of the time still had much to learn about the human body and the ill-advised use of substances such as mercury for medicinal purposes. Yet with relatively brief content concerns, (including some disturbing images of specimens, decaying or dying animals, brief buttock nudity and the use of a highly addictive drug), Creation offers a springboard for examining one’s own attitude toward the controversial naturalist and his theories.