Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Intelligent Design of "Creation"

(Originally posted by Pat on 3/19/10)

Last night we gathered a few SSA members to watch the new independent film Creation, about Charles Darwin's personal life and his ethical struggles with writing The Origin of Species.
It was a very moving film; the acting was truly excellent---I dare say Oscar-worthy---and the story did a very good job of humanizing these famous figures and bringing them to life as real people.
The depiction was generally accurate, but there were some strange changes to the true narrative that crept in.

In the film Darwin is depicted as having schizophrenic hallucinations (with Jennifer Connelly playing his wife, it's impossible not to make the comparison to A Beautiful Mind); in the actual history there is no evidence of this. After the death of his daughter, Darwin was ill, depressed, and introverted; but as far as we know he was not schizophrenic. The shift from mercury treatments to hydrotherapy on the other hand is entirely accurate; to save his daughter Darwin left mainstream medicine (which was basically poison) to alternative medicine (which was purely placebo effect). Too often we forget how much medicine has improved in the last century; most likely Darwin's daughter could have been saved by a modern course of antibiotics.
Huxley was depicted as being a vocal atheist; this is probably not accurate. Huxley coined the word "agnostic" precisely to distance himself from atheism, and while he did not adhere to religion his writings suggest that he was not particularly opposed to it either.  Huxley was well-known for his advocacy of evolution, but not of atheism; as a figure he seems more like Stephen Jay Gould than Richard Dawkins.
The cinematography was very good---the nature scenes in particular were beautiful---but the editing left much to be desired. The chronology of the film leapt from place to place and time to time, creating a sense of confusion that seemed to me entirely unnecessary. This combined with the hallucinations made Darwin seem a good deal more psychologically unhinged than the historical evidence suggests. He was depressed; he was not insane.
In all I think it is a valuable contribution to the body of artistic work surrounding Darwin; it does a good job of portraying the great hero of biology as a man like the rest of us, complicated, flawed, troubled. The distorted chronology and weird insertion of schizophrenia however prevent me from giving it my full support.
I give it a 4 out of 5.

No comments:

Post a Comment