The moment when science and religion went to war

The  moment when science and religion went to war

Leila Miller, Arts Editor

Few people can claim to have “killed God,” but in a scene from the British film Creation, T.H Huxley, a colleague of Darwin’s, gives the legendary father of evolution that distinction. Science and religion cannot be mixed, he says, at least not without one taking precedence over the other — a statement the film strongly endorses depicting Darwin’s inner struggle to write his world-impacting book, The Origin of Species.

The story opens at Charles Darwin’s ranch in an old English village. In an era of cobblestone streets and dirt-paved roads, Darwin (Paul Bettany) sits at his desk, lost in thought. His study — buried in specimen jars and insect skeletons — patiently awaits his next discovery. A knock at the door, and Darwin’s inquisitive daughter, Annie (Martha West), asks to hear another one of his adventurous tales.

But all this will change. Annie’s sudden illness and death rob Darwin of his faith and leave him at odds with his strictly religious Christian wife. Emma (Jennifer Connelly), who rears their other children while seeking comfort from the Church. Darwin responds to the death by submerging himself in a world of grievances and hallucinations about his lost daughter. He keeps going only through an obsession to finish his book, an obsession which also affects his health.

Darwin’s book causes his relationship with his wife to crumble, highlighting the conflict between science and religion. When she calls him “at war with God,” he replies that he is just a scientist, and the audience is left wondering whether — like science and religion — they will ever see eye to eye.

Creation expands its religious theme well, even in symbolism. In one scene, which also appears as the film’s promotional poster, Darwin stretches his arm out to touch fingertips with a captive chimpanzee, which does the same. This action, a take-off on Michelangelo’s famous painting in the Sistine Chapel of God creating man, sends a clear message: humans, the superior, more advanced species, evolved from chimpanzees.

Orthodox Jews today may feel the same angst towards evolutionary ideas that were felt in the Darwin’s family’s church. Both may believe that the world was created in only six days, but even more fundamentally, Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” theory questions the concept that everything happens for a reason. Abandoning this concept may prove a struggle for some, as it removes the comfort that some people (like Emma Darwin) find to explain the ups and downs of life and death.

In fact, in the film, Darwin explains to his daughter what his book will mean to the world. “It changes everything,” he said. “Supposed the whole world stopped believing that God had any sort of plan for us.” At one point in the picture, Darwin walks out of his church when the preacher sermonizes about how everything in life because of a divine plan.

Shalhevet students need to see this movie. Since Shalhevet is the debating home of Jewish teens in L.A, students will want to hear Creation’s debates. 

The film, whose subdued tone conveys the importance of Darwin’s theory and challenges, identifies many of Darwin’s inner conflicts with himself. It eloquently shows how his daughter’s death, which caused him to break away from religion, freed his mind to contemplate his theories.

Spectacular, vivid shots of nature capture the “survival of the fittest” theory and make Creation unique. A fox lunging for a rabbit (and succeeding) or insects, tearing away at a decomposing bird until only a skeleton is left, leave the audience gasping. To capture the exotic nature scenes, a crew flew to Thailand to film the scenes with Jenny, the movie’s chimpanzee. The camera angles of the chimps’ feet were particularly creative.

The film’s virtuoso acting speaks, or sometimes cries, for itself. Bettany as Darwin, sweating fiercely after a delusion about his daughter, or shaking from his exhaustion from overwork, shows the scientist’s darker moments. But Connelly steals the screen in a passionate portrayal of Emma Darwin’s conflict between her loyalty toward the Church and her husband. Both actors, extremely sympathetic and understandable, played their roles without holding back.

Creation appeals to all audiences from teenagers and up. If you like science, religion, or even just drama, you will fall for this movie, hard. Creation patiently unfolds, with some spicy controversy, to explain the life of one of the most influential men in history. Perfect, even, for your first day in bio.