Making a movie about the writing of a book is a thankless task – no matter how you spin it, there is absolutely nothing interesting in watching a writer sit down and put together sentences and paragraphs. This may explain the decision by Jon Amiel, the director of “Creation,” to present Charles Darwin’s authorship of “On the Origin of Species” in a weird web of flashbacks and ghostly fantasy sequences. The result, quite frankly, is a mess.
He is also under pressure in regard to his long-percolating attempt to explain the theory of evolution – his supporters see him as leading the charge against the forces of theocracy while his religious wife and local vicar imagine he is booking passage on a one-way trip to hell. Poor Darwin cries, shivers, screams and flails around under the pressure.
It is unclear why “Creation” did not opt for a straightforward retelling of Darwin’s life – the anguish and pressure faced by the great man is certainly worthy of a vigorous biopic. Yet the film’s insistence on endless flashbacks (including dreams within flashbacks) presents a non-linear mess that denies the viewer a true understanding of the (pardon the pun) evolutionary process behind Darwin’s masterpiece. Within the film’s final reel, Darwin sits down and writes his book in what seems to be an abnormal burst of energy. Except for bits and pieces of elusive narration, however, we never get acquainted with the fruits of his labor.
The casting doesn’t help the endeavor. Paul Bettany’s bland, limp Darwin quickly becomes a bore, while Jennifer Connelly plays Mrs. Darwin with a phony accent, a distracted air of annoyance and Frida Kahlo make-up. It is hard to imagine that the real-life Darwins were as ludicrous as this big screen pair. Dreary cinematography (including abrupt hiccups of time-lapse trickery) and clumsy CGI effects only accentuate the confusion.
The one genuinely interesting aspect of “Creation” is a flashback involving a young Darwin and his study of Jenny, an orangutan at the London Zoo. It is a shame that no one asked Jenny to step behind the camera and helm “Creation” – she couldn’t have done a worse job, and probably would’ve come up with something far more entertaining and provocative. ?