Roger Ebert explains that he’s saving his actual review for the weekend Creation opens in theaters. His blog entry from TIFF addresses other issues on his mind :
I expected the film to be focused on Darwin’s theory of the origin of species and the controversy it provoked in mid-19th century, but it is primarily about his domestic life, centering on Down House, Bromley, where he and his wife Emma lived from 1842 until until his death in 1882. There they had ten children, three of whom died young. The film is much concerned with his grief at the loss of Anne (1841-51) who was one of the brightest and most delightful, and whose direct questions perhaps helped embolden him to publish On the Origin of Species in 1859, after a 20-year delay.
The rest of Ebert’s TIFF entry seems to involve his disappointment that the movie wasn’t controversial enough. He apparently wanted more dispute between the agnostic Darwin and his devoutly Christian wife. Maybe those philosophical debates and marital battles took place in real life but I suspect they did not. I don’t imagine Charles and Emma Darwin as a 19th Century James Carville and Mary Matalin.
Ebert wanted Creation to be a science debate but discovers instead — to his chagrin — that it’s more concerned with the personal conflicts of a famous historical couple. He might have avoided the wrong expectations for Creation if he’d read the briefest summary of Annie’s Box. Sasha’s read the book on which the movies is based, and wrote about it at length months ago. It’s easy enough to find out about the source material, like I did more than a year ago:
In this intimate portrait of the great naturalist as devoted family man, Keynes describes how Charles Darwin‚Äôs ‚Äúlife and his science were all of a piece.‚Äù The great-great-grandson of the scientist, Keynes uses published documents as well as family papers and artifacts to show how Darwin‚Äôs thinking on evolution was influenced by his deep attachment to his wife and children. In particular, his anguish over his 10-year-old daughter Annie‚Äôs death sharpened his conviction that the operation of natural laws had nothing to do with divine intervention or morality. Keynes, also a descendant of economist John Maynard Keynes, shows that much of Darwin‚Äôs intellectual struggle in writing On the Origin of Species and The Descent of Man arose from his efforts to understand the role of suffering and death in the natural order of the world. (Publishers Weekly)
Sounds like Jon Amiel has been very faithful to the spirit of the biography, so I hope Ebert reconsiders his snap judgment between now and the time he writes his review.
The movie devotes most of its attention to the marriage, as Emma (Jennifer Connelly) rebukes Charles (Paul Bettany) for his heretical convictions and thinks they mean the two of them cannot spend eternity together. They’re both intelligent and deeply in love, and it’s a shame the movie doesn’t allow them to fully debate their differences. It sees their opinions instead somewhat vaguely as personality characteristics… I ask myself, do we really need to watch the Darwins edging around the substance of their disagreement?
Well, yeah. But maybe that’s exactly how it was. Why do we need a movie about a historical couple and their family tragedy to provide a framework for any contemporary political agenda? We’ve seen ample evidence this year that there’s never a shortage of fabricated controversy, so I ask myself, do we really need film critics wishing for more of it?
Those of us who respect the theory of evolution don’t need a movie to educate us. And anyone who hoped Creation would be an attempt to provoke creationists should realize creationists don’t need a movie to provoke them.