I suspect most people wouldn’t have heard of the film Creation – I just caught it in October 2009 before it was taken off and replaced by An Education which no doubt contains more popular subject matter. Starring Paul Bettany, Jennifer Connelly, Jeremy Northam, Toby Jones and Benedict Cumberbatch, Creation explores the relationship between Charles Darwin (Paul Bettany) and his wife Emma Wedgwood (Jennifer Connelly – also real life husband and wife). The film could have been another crude portrayal of the division between religion and science but it was not, owing to Bettany’s excellent way of delivering his inner questioning of God and genuine turmoil about what belief in God actually constituted. His family’s world falls apart when daughter Annie dies – his wife turns to God even more devoutly while he wrestles with science even more fervently and the age old arguments of evil and suffering are explored.
It is a complex film in that little is explained, and the flashbacks of Annie can be confusing but overall do a clever and effective job at showing Darwin’s troubled mind. His guilt and doubt result in his being ill and seeking advice from the specialist Dr Gully, in the form of actor Bill Patterson (another reliable actor appearing in Little Dorrit and Criminal Justice). He is a jolly, optimistic character but just when you least expect it, he turns around and says, firmly, to Darwin: ‘You say you don’t have religion; that’s all very well…but do you have faith?’ I smiled to myself and was warmed inside at the film’s intelligence and risk taking. Darwin and his wife have their own ‘religion’ but does that give them belief and moreover, does it give them life and belief in themselves? To bring it bang up-to-date (not that the film needs qualification as it is relevant to a modern audience) an American film actor said something very similar: ‘You spend so much time chasing staying alive, you won’t live.’* It is ironic that Darwin is concerned with the origin of life but struggles with living his own.
Yes, the film is a cry for the human spirit to understand that faith in God is not about dogma and never challenging tradition, but it also takes a step further and translates the problem of trying to do away with either religion or science into the need for humans to look at themselves and their relationship with others before trying to tackle God. You think you are going to see a film about the ‘supposed’ division between science and religion but discover that the film is about the far more devastating difference between religion and faith – far too many of us have too much of the former and not enough of the latter. Darwin’s marriage comes to breaking point when they seemingly hit the point of no return because of their diverse views but when it comes down to it, the doctor’s question about faith takes on a whole new meaning and the message of the film is that what applies to their marriage can also apply to religion.
Neither of them – Darwin or Emma, have faith in themselves because they spend their lives feeling guilty about the loss of their two children (another dies after Annie) and knowing that this is probably because they are first cousins. Religion divides them like it has done in the world ever since time began. After they admit how they feel about themselves and each other (that they have hated themselves and each other) they find unity within their difference, realise how much they love each other and the marriage survives. Their marriage is a model of how our world might be and is something the Chief Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks talks about in his book ‘The Dignity of Difference’. Difference is a gift and humans have it within them to seek unity within this. The film is about what it is to believe and believe in life, not whether or not there is a God. Out of much turbulence comes a real love and appreciation between Charles and Emma for what one gives the other: the subject matter is science and religion but also the human condition and how we might get over not so much the barriers between these two faculties but the barrier within religion itself, which so often stems from the fragmented nature within the human person, and disconnecting God from love for one another.