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Religion and science come head-to-head in new Darwin film

Religion and science come head-to-head in new Darwin film

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'Creation' director says film is bound to offend both creationists and Darwinophiles.

Before a screening last week of Creation: The True Story of Charles Darwin, director Jon Amiel noted that his movie was bound to be offensive.

“I think we’ll offend a number of creationists,” he said. “I think we will also offend Darwinophiles,” because the Charles Darwin portrayed in Creation is “anything but the lofty scientist on the ivory tower.”

But it didn’t offend those of us who were eager to see an unfamiliar side of Darwin. According to the movie (the content of which is largely supported by correspondence and diaries), this was a man who not only listened to Chopin, read poetry and wept openly, but tormented himself, family and colleagues over his theories and his groundbreaking work--On the Origin of Species.

The movie is loosely based on the biography Annie’s Box: Charles Darwin, His Daughter, and Human Evolution by Randal Keynes, a descendant of Darwin. Keynes used thousands of letters and papers to write about Darwin’s private life, especially the enduring grief over the death of his 10-year-old daughter Annie. The movie portrays Darwin, played by Paul Bettany, as a man who was fighting for his life—against both physical illness and an anguished psyche. He seemed to be endlessly tortured by the conflict between religion and his thirst for science. We see only flashback glimpses of Darwin’s better-known life (i.e. aboard the H.M.S. Beagle), but we see plenty of his devout wife, played by Bettany’s real-life wife, Jennifer Connelly.

Amiel, who is British, said he initially had no interest in making a movie about Darwin. “I admired him,” he said, “[in the same way that] I admire Mt. Rushmore. But I hate biopics. The fact that someone led an interesting life does not an interesting movie make.” But he read Keynes’s book and Darwin’s letters and diaries, and “to my enormous surprise, I found myself liking the man.” He said along with discovering an exquisitely emotional man, he found an astonishing marriage between Charles and Emma that holds lessons for all of us in tolerance. Yet in the film, it is the drama surrounding Darwin’s theory of evolution and the existence of God that seems to eclipse all others.

Creation is being distributed by Newmarket Films, which released The Passion of the Christ. But before they signed on, Amiel had trouble finding a company to back a film with so much inherent controversy.

“America came this close to not seeing this movie at all,” he said at the screening.

Creation had its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September and opened in Britain in October. It opens in select U.S. cities on Friday.

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Melanie D.G. Kaplan

Contributing Editor

Melanie D.G. Kaplan is a Washington, D.C.- based journalist. She is a regular contributor to The Washington Post and National Parks Magazine. Her website is www.melaniedgkaplan.com. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure