Thursday, July 15, 2010

Genetically predisposed

I had a bit of deja vu while watching Jon Amiel's Creation the other night.

Is it just me, or is Paul Bettany genetically predisposed to play men who are interested in genetic predispositions?

In Creation, Bettany plays Charles Darwin. The fact that the movie was about Darwin was one of the main reasons I was drawn to it, and Bettany's casting certainly didn't hurt. Darwin is one of the most influential minds in history, yet I don't know much about him -- neither have I read anything in-depth about him, nor seen his life portrayed in a movie. (And let's be honest, with how slow I read relative to how many movies I see, the latter would be a much better bet.) So I was pretty excited to see a movie devoted to him, one that would tackle the implications his research had for the predominant mode of thinking: Christian doctrine. Especially since I thought it would make a good intellectual companion piece to Agora, my favorite film of the year so far, which deals with the clashing of science and Christianity back in 4th century Egypt.

I didn't get quite as much of Darwin theorizing about the survival of fit species as I had hoped. As it turns out, the movie is based on a book called Annie's Box, and therefore, spends significant time on how the Darwins (Charles and devout wife Emma, played by Bettany's actual wife, Jennifer Connelly) are affected by the death of their oldest daughter, Annie.

But I did get that sense of deja vu I mentioned earlier.

See, Bettany also played a scientist interested in the origins of species in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Peter Weir's high-substance high seas adventure, which came out in 2003. There he plays Stephen Maturin, the ship's surgeon, who takes a keen interest in all things scientific, specifically the previously undocumented species of cormorant he discovers on the Galapagos Islands. Maturin's similarity to Darwin occurred to me way back then, years before Creation was cast, since Darwin also spent his formative researching years on board a ship, The HMS Beagle. I have to wonder if Master and Commander was in Amiel's head when he cast Bettany as Darwin.

Here's Bettany looking particularly learned in Master and Commander:

And looking particularly learned in Creation:

I wouldn't swear to it, but he may even be wearing the exact same outfit.

Of course, if we're talking about theories, the theory that Bettany plays predominantly men of science doesn't particularly hold water if you look at The Da Vinci Code, where he plays an albino monk named Silas, who fancies flagellating himself until he's bleeding from every pore in his back:

Perhaps Bettany's greatest predisposition is to play men of antiquity. He played James Steerforth in a 2000 televised version of Dickens' David Copperfield. He played none other than Geoffrey Chaucer in 2001's A Knight's Tale. And in 2009's The Young Victoria he played Lord Melbourne.

Then again, almost every British actor out there cut his teeth in Masterpiece Theatre-type fare. Perhaps that's a genetic predisposition of the species Thespius Anglo Saxonis.


Don Handsome said...

Do you think Bettany was channeling his inner Darwin when he played the computer in Iron Man?

Vancetastic said...

Oh yes, definitely. Computers are definitely more fit to survive on into the future than humans.

I could have gone off on a tangent about Bettany's religious-themed roles as well. In Legion he plays an archangel, and in the upcoming Priest (2011), he plays a vampire-killing priest. If you see thematic similarities to Legion, they are both directed by Scott Stewart.