Creation, the upcoming film about Charles Darwin (based on the book Annie’s Box about the death of one of Darwin’s children), has been seen and reviewed, not by film critics but by scientists. Most recently, the NY Times’ Olivia Judson, an evolutionary biologist. She praises the film for giving a third dimension to Darwin, for presenting him not as the bearded man we all know so well but as a handsome, emotional human being:
Bettany plays a man haunted by his dead daughter ‚Äî a powerful performance perhaps inspired by the fact he himself lost a young brother when he was a teenager. Bettany‚Äôs Darwin sees the ghost of his daughter in his study, in the garden: wherever he goes, she is there. The ghost chides her father for being a coward and not getting on with his work on the ‚ÄúOrigin.‚Äù She is also destructive, taking Darwin away from his living children and his wife.
It‚Äôs a disturbing interpretation. Charles Darwin is supposed to be a symbol of rational thought, not a character subject to a kind of Shakespearean insanity. But it seems plausible. Death can be a powerful force; the death of a child especially so; and Darwin was an emotional man.
Pedants will find things to quibble about. We‚Äôre given the impression, for instance, that Darwin returns to Malvern before he writes the ‚ÄúOrigin‚Äù and has a catharsis in the room where Annie died; in fact, he didn‚Äôt return to Malvern until several years after the ‚ÄúOrigin‚Äù was published.
But to pick at such things misses the point. Too often, Darwin is depicted as a kind of fossil: an old man with a huge beard looking as though he‚Äôs 350. It‚Äôs refreshing to see him looking young and handsome; indeed, Bettany manages to look astonishingly like the portrait of the young Darwin. And more to the point, Bettany shows Darwin as a man rather than icon, imbuing him with life and love, gentleness and anxiety, tears and laughter. This alone makes it an important film.
The critics and bloggers will ring in as Toronto unfolds.