Creation (2009) is a bio-pic about Charles Darwin starring Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly. It is the film adaptation to the biography Annie’s Box by Randall Keynes.
Real-life husband and wife Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly play husband and wife in this tragic telling of how On the Origin of Species came to be written and published. In 1839, Charles Darwin (Bettany) married his first cousin Emma Wedgwood (Connelly). The irony of inbreeding by a man studying genetics is not lost on this film, and as their first daughter, Annie (played by Dominic West’s daughter Martha West), suffers from some mysterious illness, Darwin fears it is because his and his wife’s blood are too close.
In the 1850s, both the untimely death of his daughter, who now haunts his hallucinations, and the weight of his discovery have made Darwin very ill. The film suggests that Darwin, who had been a Christian, understood the full impact that his book would have on the world were he to publish it. In his studies of how one species could evolve into another species (seemingly by melting different species of related bird to study their skeletons), he realized that he had inadvertently disproved the existence of God. His loss of faith is slow and painful, especially since he is trying to hide it from his wife and children. He does not want to take God away from society. He is afraid it will also kill things like love and honor. More than that, he’s afraid it will hurt his wife. This story, although billed as the origin of Origin and given much screen time to flashbacks of little Annie, is really about Charles Darwin’s relationship with his Christian wife.
This isn’t the first time this relationship has been made into art. My personal favorite is the song “One Love” by Grace Petrie, which you can get if you’re a Cosmic Genome subscriber or on the Robin Ince’s Last Ever Show DVD. The lyrics of the chorus were lifted directly from a letter Darwin wrote to Emma: “When I’m dead, know that many times have I kissed and cried over this.” This was in response to a letter she’d written expressing her fear that he wouldn’t see her in heaven for his loss of faith and what he was writing.
One of the more interesting revelations for me was Darwin’s dedication to the treatment known as hydrotherapy, which he knew was not scientifically proven to work. To his credit, it was probably better than the mercury-based medicines they used back then. He visited homeopathic physician/hydrotherapist Dr. James Gully (played by Bill Paterson) at his health spa, where he followed a regimented diet and alternated between dumped on by cold water (which he had tried to do at home by building a water tower) and roasting in a sauna. Although Darwin seemed to get better for a while, ultimately his disease returned and the hydrotherapy did nothing for his dying Annie. Luckily, he found a different cure for his ailments, otherwise he wouldn’t have lived to 73 and wouldn’t have published his books.
Creation has a familiar structure, taking place just inside a year, fleshed out with frequent flashbacks about his daughter, tales about his island adventures, and hallucinatory discussions with the ghost of his dead Annie. However, it does make the story of how the world came to know the Theory of Evolution a human one. It is Darwin’s internal battle, which manifests itself as an external illness, that is most fascinating.