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Creation: movie review

Charles Darwin’s family life and inner struggles are explored in 'Creation,' a look at the man behind 'The Origin of Species.'

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In “Creation,” Charles Darwin the man takes precedence over Charles Darwin the scientist. In a better movie, these two aspects would not appear so far apart. Typically, Hollywood biographies of famous people attempt to show us the “real” man or woman behind the legendary achievements. The most egregious example of this was “Amadeus,” where Mozart was portrayed as a goofy, dirty-minded buffoon who just happened to be a genius.

Since Darwin is known to most people solely from his photo as the bearded, stern-faced eminence behind “The Origin of Species,” the filmmakers behind “Creation,” in attempting to give us the “real” Darwin, are practically inventing the wheel – or at least creating a new one.

Darwin (Paul Bettany) is presented to us mostly in his pre-“Origin” days as a man in his 40s distraught to the point of despair over the death in 1851 of his beloved 10-year-old daughter, Annie (Martha West). Director Jon Amiel – working from a screenplay by John Collee based on the book “Annie’s Box” by Darwin descendant Randal Keynes – goes in for a lot of ethereal father-daughter flashbacks. Annie, who also appears in the movie as a kind of ghost, shared the great scientist’s love of naturalist observation. (If you’re a fan of baby orangutans, look no further than this movie.) By fashioning Darwin’s observations through the prism of his daughter’s presence, the filmmakers are both humanizing and sentimentalizing him. They bring his genius down to earth. “Creation” is saying: Great men of science can suffer the same as us mere mortals.

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