A leisurely yet unusually intelligent portrait of a famous historical figure’s life (or slice thereof), Creation is emphatically not any old Charles Darwin biopic. Avoiding the obvious trappings, there are neither forced introductory scenes from Darwin’s early life nor a weepy deathbed finale. There isn’t even any action from the Galápagos, aboard the HMS Beagle, or beyond—save the occasional tale he relates to his children.
Instead, the film settles on an older, beaten-down Darwin (Paul Bettany) as he is writing his masterwork, On the Origin of the Species, while confronted with a number of obstacles: failing health, the opposing views of his faith-based wife (and first cousin), played by Jennifer Connelly, and the knowledge that Alfred Russel Wallace may have beaten him to the punch in publishing similar theories. What impedes him most, though, is his loss of motivation following the death of his favorite daughter, whose spirit now haunts him.
Although director Jon Amiel illustrates Darwin’s ideas and how his theories evolved in imaginative ways (e.g., showing the entire life-cycle of an animal from birth to decomposition in time-lapse), the film is less a depiction of a man of ideas than it is a study of a man in mourning. An elegant, melancholy movie about storytelling, science vs. religion, family, life, and death, Creation perhaps addresses subjects too vast to be encompassed by a single film, but its efforts are as quietly compelling as Bettany’s portrayal.