The Evolving Screenplay
For those who asked what exactly the screenplay I was working on was about, I give you:
Before you snicker, let me assure you I am completely serious. Yes, it is a working title and yes, it is a bit preposterous a name, but then I'm sure those who stepped on board Her Majesty's Ship, the Beagle, nearly two centuries ago thought the same thing. But that did not stop the voyage the Beagle would take them on from being one of the most important and monumental in history.
This is a film about a man who makes the greatest scientific breakthrough in human history. His groundbreaking theory explains the world around us--how we got here, where we are going--in such breathtaking simplicity that, still today, it is an object of awe and admiration.
This is the story of Charles Darwin.
What attracted me to this story is something that, growing up, I was never told about Darwin. Did you know that when he stepped aboard the vessel that would take him around the world and aboard which his earthshaking theories would be crystalized, he had just finished seminary? Charles Darwin had every intention of becoming a minister and surely would have settled down into a small parish somewhere in England had not fate intervened and one of his Cambridge professors (also a minister) written to him with the invitation to become the Beagle's naturalist.
His entire life was a wrestling between these two worlds--faith and science. To his dying day, he never abandoned his faith, though there were certainly moments where it was severally tested. In fact, his definitive work, "On the Origin of Species," is suffused with references to the Creator he, at one time, thought he'd be serving from the pulpit. He saw evolution through natural selection, not as a refutation of God, but as an illumination of His handiwork.
Atheists have deified him. Christians have demonized him. The truth, always more interesting, is, of course, in between.
Together with my friend, Paul, I've been researching and planning this screenplay for the better half of a year now, gobbling up everything I can get my hands on--books, films, trips to museums (the American Museum of Natural History here in New York just concluded a massive Darwin exhibit complete with his original specimens, diaries, etc.), and some fantastic websites, one of which just this month put every word Darwin ever wrote up on the web.
While we originally considered an epic film that encompassed Darwin's entire life, we have settled on that five year period of his youth which he spent on the Beagle, traveling to such locations as Tierra del Fuego, the Andes, and the Galapagos Islands. For it is on this voyage where we see the totality of Darwin's life in miniature--his staunch fundamentalism, the wonder and awe of his discoveries, his crisis of faith, the social outrage at his new ideas, and the confident and established scientist he would become.
It is a fascinating, controversial, exciting, and illuminating story. And, given our current social debates, very timely and important, wouldn't you say?
Alright, like Darwin's ideas, let the praise and scorn begin...