Oh My God, Charlie Darwin

October 27, 2009

Coincidentally, the name of a very good album by The Low Anthem.

So, tonight I watched Creation the film about the writing of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species. Two nights in a row of good movies; I’m starting to like QFT more and more. Now, I have heard this film described as a ghost story, and the description works. For a little bit of backstory, Darwin was married to a very religious woman, Emma, and had several children. Even when he was courting Emma, Charles was troubled at the implications of his discovery towards his religious faith, and this was a question the two worked through together their entire married lives.

In 1851 Darwin’s oldest child, Annie, died of scarlet fever, and this event understandably devastated the man. The repercussions of this event echo throughout the film. Paul Bettany portrays a Darwin violently ill with grief, blaming himself for his child’s death. Here, I think Bettany does a wonderful job portraying a man wracked with guilt. As he struggles to write his book his hand trembles and he hallucinates his dead daughter. To some extent the story ends up being rather conventional and trite. The man is haunted by his past and cannot move forward until he confronts it. The movie is saved here by good performances from Bettany and Jennifer Connelly, playing Emma. The two are married in real life, and this spills over onto the screen as they’re able to portray an easiness in each other’s presence that must come, I suspect, from actually living with each other.

So there it is; rather conventional, not at all surprising, but still very well made.

Interestingly, having watched this movie and reflected, I can’t help but despair that Darwin came up with his theory (When do we get to call it a law?) when he did. Of course The Enlightenment laid the philosophical and intellectual framework for him to pursue this theory, but it also laid the framework that led the church to adopt intellectual positions so starkly at odds with these discoveries. In all honesty the theological problems that lead so many to staunchly oppose Darwin are fairly new, and I can’t help but feel as though in an earlier time such discoveries wouldn’t have been seen as so contrary to the existence of God. Nevertheless, things are as they are.

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