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The Green Life: Movie Review Friday: The Genius of Charles Darwin

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May 27, 2011

Movie Review Friday: The Genius of Charles Darwin

Escape to the movies with one of our Movie Review Friday selections. Each week we review a film or television event with an environmental theme. Seen a good eco-flick lately? Send us a short review and look for it in the next Movie Review Friday.

The Genius of Charles Darwin (2008)

Watch online for free, or buy the DVD

Imagine this: You're holding your mother’s hand. She's holding her mother’s hand, and on back to the last common ancestor with modern apes. The family line would only stretch 300 miles. In other words, you could drive four hours and see the ancestral human. Pretty incredible, right? The Genius of Charles Darwin, an award-winning documentary series about evolution and its implications, is packed with information like this because, as Darwin himself said, “There is grandeur in this view of life.”

But according to a recent global poll, only 41% of people believe in evolution, even though most scientists regard it as fact. Richard Dawkins, the controversial and brilliant writer of The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion, wants to up that percentage with The Genius of Charles Darwin. His three-part TV series first addresses Darwin’s revolutionary theory, second, Dawkins's own theory of the evolution of human altruism, and third, the conflict between religion and evolution.

Unfortunately, the documentary is somewhat of a blunt object. Dawkins's borderline arrogant demeanor invites a defensive response from anyone who does believe in divinity. He’s awkward, too; some won't be able to help laughing at the panning, "inspirational" shots of Dawkins perched on a rock, overlooking the Serengeti like an anemic antelope. In other scenes, the stuffy British biologist tries his best to relate to a gaggle of religious teenagers.

Nevertheless, Dawkins is a world-class scientist. Along with beautiful cinematography, he does a laudable job of explaining the nuances of evolution, a concept that tells us that we're creatures, by lineage connected to every other creature in the animal kingdom. We do not have dominion over the planet. Rather, we're a product of it, and just as fragile a species as coral, or bumblebees. Many believe that this strips humanity of its moral fiber, but as Dawkins  points out, it does just the opposite: Our evolved brains allow us to comprehend the world’s interconnectedness, and act accordingly.

--Christa Morris

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