Friday, 25 March 2011

Creation

Lowdown: The story behind the writing of The Origin of Species.
Review:
The year 2009 marked two key Darwinian events: the 200th birthday of Darwin and the 150th anniversary for the publication of his landmark book, On the Origin of Species. Amongst the several means with which these landmarks were celebrated was the film Creation, directed by Jon Amiel (whom I fondly remember from the detailed supplementals on the Copycat laserdisc) and starring Paul Bettany as Darwin with Jeniffer Connelly as his wife Emma.
The story takes place long after Darwin's voyage aboard the Beagle took place but before his landmark theory was published. In fact, it tries to tell the story behind the publication of the book: the pressure placed on Darwin by scientific circles to come out with his god killing theory on one side, and the torments he was feeling with the knowledge of the damage he is about to inflict religion - and his religious wife in particular.
Creation starts off in a very promising manner, presenting a multitude of arguments in favor of the theory of evolution by natural selection in various cunning ways. For example, we are exposed to the "humanity" of "inferior" apes through the story of an orangutan at London Zoo and we learn why god is made redundant through arguments Darwin has with his local vicar. The promising notions fade away too quickly, though: instead of dealing with the theory we drown in Darwin's personal life, most notably the guilt he's feeling after losing his oldest daughter to a mysterious disease. While on one hand the daughter's death exposes more about the progress evolution brought to our understanding and treatment of disease it still harms the film overall: we keep on jumping in time to before and after her death with often Darwin's receding hairline being the only clue as to when we currently are. The point is that these guilt feeling of Darwin's are blocking him from writing his book.
The question I have is to do with the authenticity of the story told by the film. What I know from a multitude of sources is that Darwin was hesitating to publish his theory both because of the shock waves he knew it would release and because he wanted to take his time convincing himself on the validity of his theory; it was only when he learned that Wallace came up to the same conclusion that he hurried to publish first. Creation takes the focus elsewhere, from the theoretical and the philosophical and into the family and personal level. I doubt anyone can come up with the evidence to say whether the film is correct or not, but to me it didn't matter: the fact of the matter is we have tons of films dealing with the personal torments of individuals, but we only have one Darwin that came up with the theory that made god redundant. And this is where Creation misses the point.
Worst scene: The DVD supplementals contain a so called debate concerning Darwin's theory, pitting three people holding university positions. One is a biologist who happens to be an atheist, the other a "theological evolutionist" (whatever that is), and the third a young earth creationist. The problem is that the weirdos, the "theological" expert and the creationist, are given the same platform and the same attention as the one arguing from evidence, which points at the number one sin the media is performing when it communicates science to the public. By pitting together the legitimate and the illegitimate at the same level, the media gives the ignorant public reason to believe the two have equal footings; the truth of the matter is that they don't, because the evidence point clearly and uniformly towards a single direction. When the debate deals with evolution we can almost dismiss the matter as philosophical (I don't! I value the truth, for a start); but when the subject matter turns to global warming and we let climate change deniers drive humanity to its doom the stakes are significantly higher.
Technical assessment: An average DVD with a bit of an edge. In addition to the standard Dolby Digital soundtrack the DVD offers a DTS soundtrack of a significantly more refined nature.
Overall: Starts very well but then falters to 3 out of 5 stars.

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