[Editor’s Note: This interview and clip ran last week in indieWIRE as a sneak of the Toronto International Film Festival’s opening night. “Creation” debuts at the event tonight in Canada.]
“I really hate it when people doing previews describe the film as a biopic, that’s exactly the genre of film I didn’t want to make,” “Creation” director Jon Amiel told indieWIRE recently by phone from Los Angeles. His feature, described as “part ghost story, part psychological thriller and part heart-wrenching love story” focuses on the personal trauma naturalist Charles Darwin faced in the period leading up to the publication of his book, “On the Origin of Species” – a work that continues to cause shockwaves 150 years after it first appeared in Victorian England. It will premiere next Thursday, opening the 34th Toronto International Film Festival, a departure for the North American event which has long launched with a Canadian production. The filmmakers are sharing a short clip of the film here on indieWIRE.
“Initially, I never felt any closer to Darwin than any other figure [in history],” explained Amiel, explaining how the idea for the project evolved. “Initially to me, he was this edifice who hid behind this beard and crazy eyebrows.” For Amiel, Darwin grew from simply being a figure he admired to someone he “deeply loved” after slowly growing to understand the vexing questions behind the process which lead to “Origin.”
Set in England while Darwin (played by Paul Bettany, “A Beautiful Mind”) was in his early forties, he is at the same time devoted but distant from his wife and children. Darwin only seems to come to life when he retreats into his study to discuss his day with his precocious and inquisitive ten year-old daughter, Annie. But when his wife (played by Bettany’s real life partner, Oscar-winner Jennifer Connelly) comes in to find Darwin alone, it’s apparent he’s been talking to a ghost – not an apparition – but the vibrant spirit of Darwin’s favorite child who died several years earlier.
“The film is about the creative process to creating a masterpiece – and the process for being in touch with one’s own creativity,” said Amiel. “On one level, it’s a portrait of a great thinker, but it’s also a portrait of an artist and the journey Darwin traveled to make this great work.” Although mostly unknown to the generations of scientists and admirers of Darwin, he dealt with issues of guilt and love as well as the conflict between faith and thought while writing his thoughts on natural selection in the book published in 1859. “He was a deeply tormented man and incredibly sensitive man,” added Amiel.
In the clip shown here in indieWIRE, Darwin and his wife Emma passionately discuss the ramifications behind Darwin’s thoughts behind “Origin,” which ignite fears of eternal damnation from his devout wife.
“It’s a crucial scene between the two of them,” said Amiel. “It illuminates two things about this couple. One is the vast difference that lies between them and [the other] is their great underlying affection. In a short scene, you cover a great deal of ground on what drives this couple and what stands in their way.” Prior to their heated discussion, Darwin said he was planning to produce “Origin of Species,” which caused “her a tremendous alarm,” explained Amiel. “For her, it’s not a matter of months or weeks, but it’s about eternity,” Amiel continued. “She believed that if he didn’t believe in the Kingdom of Heaven, then he wouldn’t inherit the afterlife.” The scene also hints at Darwin’s internal conflict as scientist vs. devoted husband.
“Their exchange is said without acrimony, but much of it kept him paralyzed for the twenty years before writing ‘Origin,’ and much of that was because of his love and respect for [his wife] and it burdened him as a person and a scientist.”
During his conversation with iW, Amiel expressed his excitement at debuting the film the Toronto International Film Festival next Thursday, and the unlikely slot “Creation,” which was written by John Collee, will screen in.
“I was absolutely surprised and delighted. It’s a badge of honor to be invited at all,” said Amiel. “I love TIFF. It’s a real filmgoers festival [with] a relaxed down to earth passionate vibe.