“Creation” (the movie) and Idiot America

For me, Creation, a much anticipated movie about Charles and Emma Darwin (based on Annie’s Box: Charles Darwin, his Daughter, and Human Evolution by Randal Keynes, Darwin’s great-great grandson) is — or rather was — a must-see flick. It premiered this weekend at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Paul Bettany is cast as Darwin. Bettany is a versatile actor whose performances have always impressed me, e.g., his roles as Dr. Stephen Maturin in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World and John Nash’s imaginary friend in A Beautiful Mind (John Nash cinematic fan fiction at its most “interpretative”) among many. Jennifer Connelly (Bettany’s wife) — a lovely actress (Pollock, House of Sand and Fog, and A Beautiful Mind) is cast as Emma.

Darwin the man (as well as Darwin the naturalist) has long intrigued me. A few years ago, the American Museum of Natural History in NYC (where my great-great uncle[1] — a paleontologist — had been a curator for a time) had a special exhibit of Darwin’s collections and notes, including a replica of his study. I took my kids to see it on February 12 — Darwin’s birthday a.k.a. “Darwin Day.” To see the notes that he had written with his own hand was marvelous and truly sent shivers down my spine.

And my favorite passage from The Origin of Species:

Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely. the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”

That is poetry.

Olivia Judson wrote a wonderful essay on Creation in her blogThe Wild Side, hosted by the New York Times. Judson’s eloquent essay further reinforced my desire to see the flick.

So yesterday afternoon, when my spawn and I were on our way to see Ponyo (a feast for the eyes: gorgeous color and images, all dream-like with those delightful characters and weird touches I have come to expect from Hiyao Miyazaki), we talked about the upcoming Creation film with no little excitement. However, my 18 year old daughter wondered aloud if the film would be released in all markets in the United States.

Prophetic pondering that. Today, Co-Chimp Kevin sent the link to this article from the Daily Telegraph:

Charles Darwin film ‘too controversial’ for religious America.

Excerpts from the article by Anita Singh:

However, US distributors have resolutely passed on a film which will prove hugely divisive in a country where, according to a Gallup poll conducted in February, only 39 per cent of Americans believe in the theory of evolution.

And…

Jeremy Thomas, the Oscar-winning producer of Creation, said he was astonished that such attitudes exist 150 years after On The Origin of Species was published.

“That’s what we’re up against. In 2009. It’s amazing,” he said.

“The film has no distributor in America. It has got a deal everywhere else in the world but in the US, and it’s because of what the film is about. People have been saying this is the best film they’ve seen all year, yet nobody in the US has picked it up.

“It is unbelievable to us that this is still a really hot potato in America. There’s still a great belief that He made the world in six days. It’s quite difficult for we in the UK to imagine religion in America. We live in a country which is no longer so religious. But in the US, outside of New York and LA, religion rules.

“Charles Darwin is, I suppose, the hero of the film. But we tried to make the film in a very even-handed way. Darwin wasn’t saying ‘kill all religion’, he never said such a thing, but he is a totem for people.”

Unbelievable indeed.

When I was growing up, I was a member of the United Methodist Church. My favorite minister was “Reverend Mac,” a gifted speaker and a scholarly man (almost rabbinical!) who was also the substitute science teacher at my public high school. He embraced the theory of evolution and the entire concept of a universe that is billions of years old. As one of the Faithful, he did not see such concepts as incompatible with an Abrahamic God. In his mind, these added to the mystery and glory of God rather than negating the idea. He even brought beautiful scientific imagery into his sermons — for example that laws of physics that govern an atom’s motion and that of a galaxy.

So that is what I grew up with as well as a household where evolution was considered fact. That is what I thought was theologically “normal.” Many of my Roman Catholic pals were taught much the same way. In essence, we (as kids) were already experiencing what the late Stephen Jay Gould called “separate magisteria,” that is Faith and Science in parallel — not overlapping but co-existing.

Now, as an atheist, I respect the beliefs of the Rational Faithful — like Rev. Mac and many others I know for whom science poses no difficulty in their faith in God and who honor the concept of non-overlapping magisteria — even if I have no need for belief in the supernatural. Again, I (naively) tend to think that is what most believers are like.

Apparently that is not the case in the United States.

The lack of balls on the part of US distributors is appalling. I had anticipated the possibility of limited distribution, that is, the film would not make it to markets in certain areas of the country, but I fully expected it would show in venues like the Angelika in NYC or the Garden Theater here in Princeton or the Kendall in Cambridge among many of the independent US theaters in the Northeast, the West Coast and certain areas of the Midwest. Maybe in Houston, too. But not distributed AT ALL!? Does the Christian Right have that much power in this country such that US film distributors cave into their lunacy? That smacks of an especially horrific censorship.

Yet Mel Gibson’s bloody Passion of the Christ was A-OK.

Here’s a trailer for Creation. Enjoy it. It may be the only bits we idiot Americans will get to see.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

[1] My great-great uncle was told to resign from the faculty of Butler University because he embraced Darwin’s theory. He went on to work at the AMNH in NYC and the Carnegie Institute in Washington DC. He published a number of monographs on the vertebrate paleofaunas of North America, and a big tome (800+ pages) on fossil vertebrates of North America and the Pleistocene of North America.

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  1. #1 by The Science Pundit on September 13, 2009 - 5:52 pm

    I really wanted to see this. We’re nothing but a nation of cowards!

  2. #2 by tim on September 13, 2009 - 5:56 pm

    This is such a shame. I hope that someone gets behind this and sees that it gets distributed in the US.

  3. #3 by kemibe on September 13, 2009 - 8:28 pm

    Talk about an aptly-named site! At the Cross-Eyed Blog, some Jesus freak has written a bloated and inane post explaining how the “science fiction” known as evolution came to be accepted as real science. Horrors!

    I left this comment, which is presently in the moderation queue:

    “Of course, none of this changes the fact that Charles Darwin is hardly the only evolutionary biologist to have ever lived, and that his ideas ultimately gave rise to the most powerful theory in all of modern biology, one which touches and informs every aspect of the field. To pretend that evolution is not a rock-solid concept whose core precepts have been observed and verified a million times over (with the advent of molecular biology allowing scientists to confirm virtually every hypothesis about common descent) is to proudly display one’s own stubborn, Biblically based ignorance.”

  4. #4 by hopper3011 on September 14, 2009 - 7:56 am

    Before I accepted this story at face value, I’d want to hear from a distributor exactly why they chose not to take it. The lack of a comment from a distributing company is a glaring omission from the Telegraph story, in fact it is shoddy journalism.

  5. #5 by Doc Bushwell on September 14, 2009 - 9:05 am

    hopper, I agree that the article has a tone of the overwrought and that at least asking a representative from Lion’s Gate or Icarus would have been desirable, even if the answer was a mere “no comment.” Certainly economic factors play into the problem of findng US distribution, i.e., Dramas face tough times at Toronto film festival. Creation is not the only film struggling to find a US distributor. However, a number of other distributors have picked up the film outside the US and expect to find markets for the film. To the best of my knowledge, the economies of said markets are not exactly robust at the moment. So yes, it’s wasy enough to paint the fundagelicals as the root problem, but — until one hears an honest asnwer from a distributor — a best guess is that this derives from an unsavory combination of a tough sell in a tough economy, Dumb America, who — even if they give a token nod to acceptance of Darwin’s posits (that ranges from 39% to 60% of ‘Muricans, depending on the poll — would rather watch something goofy and mindless (not that there’s anything wrong with that; I have been known to watch all sorts of dreck) and (probably overblown) squeamishness on the distributors’ part regarding fundagelical squawking.

  6. #6 by hopper3011 on September 14, 2009 - 10:58 am

    If I had to make a wild guess, I’d say that a lot of distributors feel that the downside of taking up this film probably outweighs the profit to be made.
    Let’s face it, were it not for the religious overtones, this wouldn’t actually be a story – how surprised would you be if a film about Salk, Curie, or Mendel, all whose works have more practical applications in everyday life than Darwin’s, couldn’t find a distributor?
    It’s not that great a hook story anyway, Darwin would have published whether Anne died or not, since most of the work was done by then, plus I’m not sure what sort of legitimacy is given by the fact that it was written by his great-great-grandson, you could probably pull in any half-competent biographer to do as good a job.
    Just my tuppence worth.

    • #7 by Doc Bushwell on September 16, 2009 - 2:09 pm

      You’re likely right — the majority of Americans are more willing to fork out money to see giant robots, etc. than a quiet cerebral film about a balding English naturalist. Couple that with potential noisiness outside of where poeple might actually go see the film, and it may not be worth it. I’m not so sure that’s anything for Americans to brag about either.

      It’s not that great a hook story anyway

      Oh, I don’t know. I happily watched Race for the Double Helix and the BBC Oppenheimer series ages ago.

      Let’s face it, were it not for the religious overtones, this wouldn’t actually be a story –

      Could be, and couple that with abovementioned noisy fundagelicals (who didn’t manage to stop other larger films from showing, e.g., Harry Potter flicks, etc.) being a minor irritant and the majority of Americans not particularly caring to see a “quiet” film, then Creation is doomed…dooooomed!

      Nonetheless, I reserve the right to squawk loudly in a knee-jerk fashion about all this.

      • #8 by hopper3011 on September 17, 2009 - 5:32 am

        Did you know that ‘Race for the Double Helix’ is the American title – it was called ‘Life Story’ in the UK? I wonder if they foresaw the issues that appear to be dogging this film? After all ‘Creation’ is an unnecessarily confrontational (and inaccurate) title: the film is about Darwin’s crisis of faith followinga family tragedy, what that ‘proves’ about creationism I don’t know?
        It is interesting that the book is called ‘Annie’s Box: Charles Darwin, His Daughter, and Human Evolution’ in the UK but only ‘Charles Darwin, His Daughter, and Human Evolution’ in the US. The mysteries of marketing!!

  7. #9 by threlkeld on September 14, 2009 - 11:57 am

    Not a comment on the distributor (or lack thereof) issue, but more a tip: It’s likely that you’ll be able to rent this from Netflix eventually. I’ve found that most “non-US distributed) movies eventually find there way to Netflix as rentals.

    • #10 by Doc Bushwell on September 16, 2009 - 2:10 pm

      I’ll bet this will be the eventual fate of Creation, and it’s not such a bad one, really. Based on news coming from the Toronto Int’l Film Festival, quite a few dramas are not being picked up by distributors. Thanks muchly for the tip!

  8. #11 by hopper3011 on September 29, 2009 - 12:17 pm

    Doc;
    I don’t know if you noticed this, it’s not much, but at least it gives you someone to contact about further distribution:
    http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118009136.html?categoryid=1236&cs=1
    The movie is still exciting plenty of comment over here:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/filmblog/2009/sep/28/creation-charles-darwin-creationists

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