09 November 2008

Darwin in The Fall

I just watched the movie The Fall last night, which was directed by Tarsem Singh.

"In a hospital on the outskirts of 1920s Los Angeles, an injured stuntman begins to tell a fellow patient, a little girl with a broken arm, a fantastical story about 5 mythical heroes. Thanks to his fractured state of mind and her vivid imagination, the line between fiction and reality starts to blur as the tale advances" -- IMDb
One of the heroes in the story is Charles Darwin, who sports a very fluffy and very awesome pink flamingo coat and a bowler hat. He carries around a bag that contains his "colleague" and pet, a monkey named Wallace, who no one but Darwin ever sees, but who whispers ideas to Darwin throughout the movie. You can watch a clip of the movie introducing Darwin here.

Wallace, of course, is in reference to Alfred Russel Wallace, who was also a British naturalist and seldom credidted for his independent development of the theory of natural selection. Darwin and Wallace corresponded via letters over the years and both scientists' thoughts on natural selection were first presented together. A few have suggested there was a conspiracy to rob Wallace of his credit and that Darwin had taken ideas from Wallace to complete his own theory. This must be why the filmaker portrayed the fictionalized Darwin as frequently jotting notes and sketching pictures into his notebook while Wallace the monkey would interject with ideas to help him. At one point in the movie Darwin exclaims, at the immenent demise of Wallace, "I'll tell everyone they were your ideas. They're going to find out that I'm a fraud."

While many scholars have refuted this dynamic (this Wallace FAQ is a good reference for questions about Wallace) and I would never call Darwin a fraud, I enjoyed the movie The Fall and I liked the portrayal of Darwin. It's a refreshing change to see him shown as young and cavalier in his flamboyant coat than how one usually sees him depicted as a solemn bearded old man.

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