This film is a partly biographical, partly fictionalised account of Charles Darwin's relationship with his eldest daughter, Annie, as he struggles to write On the Origin of Species. Produced by Jeremy Thomas, the film was directed by Jon Amiel and stars married couple Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly as Charles and Emma Darwin. John Collee wrote the script based on Randal Keynes's biography of Darwin titled Annie's Box.
I feel that, overall, the film focuses too much on Darwin's eldest daughter and how her sickness influenced Darwin's life and faith, but it is still a fascinating and original film. The cinematography is artistic and breathtaking, the acting is excellent, Bettany's narrating as Darwin is well-placed and the majority of the narration seems to be restricted to the actual words and writings of Darwin himself rather than just the result of poetic license taken by the scriptwriter.
If I had my way I would prefer a film that was essentially nothing more than a narration of the complete On the Origin of Species, but, after admitting my biases, this movie is a remarkable breath of fresh air and a very unique approach and I highly recommend anyone interested or curious about Darwin's life and Darwin as a man to see it.
My primary critique of the film is my concern that, as Darwin draws nearer to finishing his On the Origins of Species he is plagued more and more frequently by visions of his deceased daughter and violent hallucinations and nightmares. It is implied later on that this was because of his internal struggle with himself regarding his faith and also his unwillingness to emotionally acknowledge his daughter's passing even decades later. However, I worry that it could be interpreted as him being senile or losing his mind while he was writing, or before he wrote his seminal book, calling the authority and reliability of his work into question. I think this is somehow countered in the film by making reference to a contemporary of Darwin who arrived at the same
conclusion regarding the theory of natural selection through independent study.
On a religious note, the film goes into a fair amount of depth in this regard, tracing Darwin's loss of faith and speculating at its origins and the repercussions.
Here are some excellent religious quotes from the film:
Huxley: Clearly the almighty can no longer claim to have authored every species in under a week. You've killed God, Sir. And I for one say good riddance to the vindictive old bugger. Science is at war with religion, and when we win we'll finally be rid of those damned archbishops and their threats of eternal punishment.
Huxley: Was Jenny the ape any less personable for not being a person? Our behaviour, like our physical forms, evolves according to our needs... and thus, in time, we lose those parts which are no longer required. Like the appendix, the male nipple, and finally, thank Christ, our belief in an utterly redundant almighty.
Regarding the mass reproduction of fish:
John: Most of the eggs are eaten so that the numbers remain stable. That's the beauty of God's plan.
Darwin: It doesn't strike you as an exceedingly wasteful plan? These myriad lives created then only to be extinguished.
John: They're providing food for others.
Darwin: Thousands die so that only a few may live.
Letter to his wife:
Dearest Emma, last night you said I was at war with God. But truly it is nothing so dramatic as a war. Just a silent struggle with myself extended over a thousand afternoons. The loss of religious faith is a slow and fragile process, like the raising of continents. What can I say to you, except that the process now seems complete?
To a reverend:
Reverend: the lord moves in mysterious ways.
Darwin: Yes, he does doesn't he? You know I was remarking earlier the other day how he has endowed us in all of his blessed generosity with not one but 900 species of intestinal worm, each with its own unique method of infiltrating the body and burrowing through to the bloodstream. And on the love that he shows for butterflies by inventing a wasp that lays its eggs inside the living flesh of caterpillars.
Reverend: I've said on many previous occasions, it is not for us speculate on his reasons.
"I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created parasitic wasps with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars."