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The Auteurs Daily: Toronto. Creation


The Auteurs Daily


"In case you missed it, 2009 is the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his masterpiece, On the Origin of Species."


Blogging for the New York Times, Olivia Judson lists the many ways these events are being celebrated, some fitting, some not, before turning to Creation, "based on a book called Annie's Box: Charles Darwin, his Daughter, and Human Evolution, by Randal Keynes. Keynes is one of Darwin's great-great-grandsons. His book is thus part-biography, part-family memoir." The film "takes on two main themes. The first is the difference in religious outlook between Darwin and his wife - and, more broadly, between Darwin and much of Victorian society. This is inevitable in any account of Darwin's life. The second, and more unusual, theme is the mental hell of guilt and anguish that the death of a loved one can bring, and how that can fracture a family."

"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," writes Roger Ebert. "I ask myself, do we really need to watch the Darwins edging around the substance of their disagreement? The filmmaker, Jon Amiel, obviously has great respect and affection for the scientist - for them both, really. Did he restrain himself in fear of provoking controversy? Has it gotten to that point? Creation dares not state relevant ideas that were acceptable nearly 50 years ago, when Inherit the Wind was nominated for four Academy Awards. There's no such shyness in the anti-Darwin faction."

"A life of Darwin in a 108-minute running time is by nature reductive," notes Fionnuala Halligan in Screen, "and Amiel and producer Jeremy Thomas are evidently hoping for wider audiences with Creation's humanising focus on his family. The danger is that devices - such as Annie's ghost, whom Darwin uses as a sounding board - could alienate the film's core upmarket crowd. Creation also has a tendency to become mired in the domestic, with Darwin scampering off to look at a rock formation every now and again to remind viewers of what this is really about."

"Director Jon Amiel, whose 2003 Robert Downey Jr remake of The Singing Detective displayed a flair for visually audacious cinema, fails to navigate the intrinsic flaws of John Collee's screenplay," writes Eric Kohn at indieWIRE. "If Creation were absolute fiction, it would be a meaningless bore; instead, it's a directionless bore with the intrinsic meaning drained out of the picture."

"Creation feels somewhat static in storytelling terms," agrees Dennis Harvey, writing in Variety. "Once basic conflicts are established, we simply wait for Darwin to come to terms with his grief, marriage and imminent notoriety. Not much 'happens,' though the pic does its best to maintain energy in both physical presentation and mixed-chronology structure."

On the other hand, Ray Bennett in the Hollywood Reporter: "Thanks to the writing, pacing and Bettany's nuanced performance, it is one of the best delineations of intellectual and emotional struggle seen on film in many a year."

"This movie bears all the earmarks of a group of people trying not to churn out yet another biopic, desperately searching for drama and conjuring up nothing but flapping boredom," counters Anne Thompson.

"[H]onestly, when you're dealing with the man who helped change the way mankind sees its place in the universe, do you really want to watch him weeping over his sick daughter for an hour?" asks Noel Murray at the AV Club. "I get what Creation's trying to say in applying theories of adaptation on a personal level, but it still seems like a too-narrow lens through which to view an intellectual giant."

Interviews with Amiel: Mekado Murphy (NYT) and Nev Pierce (Los Angeles Times).

TIFF 09: Index; full coverage; lineup.


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