Creation film's themes relevant to Christians

|PIC1|At the end of an outstretched arm, an index finger points across space and is met by another. But this is no Michelangelo fresco of God creating Adam. Here, the first finger belongs to the natural historian Charles Darwin, the second to Jenny, an orang utan at London zoo.

The scene, in which the scientist’s visit to the first orang utan in London spurs him on in his research, is one of the film Creation’s many moving moments. But its deliberate twist on the iconic Michelangelo painting flashes a warning sign. Darwin’s theory, first published 150 years ago, was seen then – and by some now – as a profound threat, both to Christian faith and to an ordered society.

In John Collee’s imaginative and intimate screenplay for Creation, though, the greatest fear of Charles (Paul Bettany) is the damage the theory could do to the faith of his devout wife, Emma (Jennifer Connelly), and to their devoted relationship. This is one of several strands that makes the film an emotional and human portrait, rather than some documentary on the Discovery channel.

Creation has yet to secure a US distribution because of opposition from some Christians there, but this is a great shame. Not only because a figure as influential as Darwin deserves to have his story told. But also because Creation is a well crafted film focusing on themes that are highly relevant to Christians and their friends.

|PIC1|Firstly, there is Creation’s accurate depiction of Charles’ struggle between the faith he inherited and all his research was telling him. Situations that cause us to re-examine our faith and, in this case, reconsider how we read the Bible’s accounts of origins, needn’t send Christians rushing to the air shelters.

Secondly, there is the film’s moving portrait of a family devastated by the loss of a child. As Nick Spencer’s book Darwin and God reveals, it was the death of Annie, the Darwins’ oldest daughter and Charles’ favourite, that sealed his loss of faith.

Creation homes in on this tragedy by making Annie a central character and this really gives the film its heart and its most original device. We see Annie (sparkling newcomer Martha West), both in flashback and as a ghost, constantly in Charles’ imagination. And this is not only because of his grief, but because Annie is a younger, more free-spirited version of himself. Where Charles’ responsibilities to his wife and society hold him back from making his discoveries public, inquisitive Annie cheers him on.

Emma, rather sternly portrayed by Connelly, is a devout Christian troubled by Charles’ views and urging caution. Other players in this battleground include biologist Thomas Huxley (Toby Jones). Representing an atheist position, he tells Charles with Dawkins-like glee, ‘The Almighty can no longer claim to have authored every species in a week. You have killed God, sir!’ Botanist Joseph Hooker (Benedict Cumberbatch) represents the general scientific community, joining in urging Charles to complete his book. While Revd John Brodie Innes (Jeremy Northam) is cast (probably unfairly since they actually remained good friends) as a dispenser of platitudes on suffering and of a consoling view of nature strongly at odds with Darwin’s observations.

No doubt Creation takes some liberties with history – in days of buttoned-down emotions, it seems that Darwin actually buried his grief for Annie rather than allowing it to drive him to the brink of madness. But the film’s focus on the love and pain in Darwin’s marriage helps us reassess him as a person rather than as an emblem of a worldview. And the film’s mingling of historic and imagined scenes, its subtle humour and striking visual sequences set it apart from many more run-of-the-mill historical pictures.

Lindsay Shaw is editor of Reel Issues, Bible Society’s online film and faith discussion service. Visit either to download and road-test a recent film discussion or to sign up and receive a new outline every month and access a full library of archived discussions. Each outline offers a full programme for a discussion based on one of the latest popular films, helping Christians and their friends to discuss spiritual, moral and lifestyle issues.