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Agora (2010)

1 rating: 3.0
A movie directed by Alejandro AmenĂ¡bar

Alternating between cosmic splendor and human squalor,Agorais a movie of unusual ambition. In the last days of the Roman Empire, the Egyptian city of Alexandria is torn between the aristocratic pagan society and the emerging, rough-and-tumble Christians. … see full wiki

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1 review about Agora (2010)

Agoraphobia: Societal Unrest

  • Feb 6, 2011
In "Agora," a film depicting the Roman Empire in circa 415 AD, director Alejandro Amenabar presents his audience with screen-filling photo segments of the earth peacefully spinning in the blackness of space to the music of its sphere. Who would believe that such serenity would reveal, as the camera pans closer and moves through the layers of the earth's atmosphere, a great din of unrest. Cross-wearing mobs have amassed near the Great Library of Alexandria to uphold the Emperor Theodosius's call for the ultimate removal of all things pagan from the face of the Empire he rules. Turn-the-other-cheek Christians with cudgels and swords will insure the icons of the pagan world fall without but preferably with bloodshed. As marble statues topple and priceless scrolls of learning burn in a fire inflamed with fear and ignorance, the pagan denizens of the Library realize that the seclusion of their academic lives is forever to change.

Most influenced by this is the mathematician, philosopher and cosmologist Hypatia (check out Brian Trent's novel "Remembering Hypatia: A Novel of Ancient Egypt"), who is willing to forego romantic love and a domestic life for her desire to unravel the unknown--she happily spends her time teaching a philosophy of the brotherhood of learning while extensively pondering the mathematics of the earth's trajectory around the sun. Unfortunately, her egalitarian ideas of understanding through knowledge and gender equality threaten those politically positioned to grab the reigns of power and plunge the world into a dark age of domination without the light of free thought.

Rachel Weisz plays Hypatia with a gravitas that brings to life not only her legendary beauty but, her philosopher's love of the truth. Her eyes gaze at a point only she sees bringing an ethereal aura to the otherwise befuddled academic forever preoccupied with theoretical questions the world of science even today has yet to answer. As she fends off three different suitors from three different factions of the city, Weisz, as Hypatia, does a fine job of giving the role a sense of innocence, urgency and impending doom. Amenabar and Mateo Gil's script allows her to pontificate her idea of a Republic worthy of that of Plato in speeches that underline the seclusion and otherworldliness of her academic life and yet maintain her credibility with a luminous mixture of serenity and dread.

As one of her admirers, the slave Davus (Max Minghella) violently embraces the ascendancy of Christian rule over Alexandria, becoming one of the black-robed `parabolani' who patrol the streets armed with crude weapons, sharp tongues and little mercy for the once aristocratic pagans. Archbishop Cyril (Sami Samir) wants nothing less than the eradication of all paganism and is willing to preach insurgence. When he targets Hypatia while sermonizing one of Paul's letters to the Corinthians, former students and rationalists Orestes (Oscar Isaac), the Roman Prefect and Synesius (Rupert Evans) Bishop of Cyrene (this is historically incorrect as Synesius actually was the Bishop of Ptolemais) cringe at what they presage as the unavoidable fate of those who choose not to bend the knee to a faith that is swift in gaining governmental control.

In his scenes of chaos where the once underdog Christians (think arena with lions) fight for control, Amenabar speeds up the action, giving the audience a buzzard's eye view of the warring participants who scurry along and cluster like ants fighting for crumbs of food and annihilating anything in sight. Papyrus scrolls dance through the air in a macabre sacrilege across an oculus framing an otherwise bright blue sky; harsher, darker fabrics, black beards and the gleam of knives reflecting sneering eyes portray marauding Christians as fanatical equalizers extinguishing the lantern of learning. The point? All fundamentalists, no matter what the religious or political persuasion, halt humanity's understanding of the world in which it lives and is content to seize control at the expense of the overall common good. Perhaps Amenabar as an acknowledged atheist uses his film to make a statement against religion as one of the opiates anesthetizing the masses while control is seized by an elite corps--but history tells us that despots will use religion, politics, racial supremacy, various interpretations of the rights of man or anything else to get ultimate access to power and materialistic gain.

Unfortunately, his depiction of Hypatia as an atheist does not ring true. As a Neo-Platonist, she most likely sought some Gnostic union with the One. Like many New Agers that profess gnosis of God through meditation, Hypatia probably reveled in her ability to privatize her knowledge of God and attempted to teach her students her "path" to that understanding. History records that Cyril was jealous of her popularity and if she was advocating knowledge of God without the communal help and guidance of the Church, it is little wonder that Cyril affixed a target to her being. Amenabar, being fully aware that most audiences love beauty and put it well before age, takes another liberty: at the time of her death, Hypatia would have been nearing sixty rather than the 30-something that Weisz's fresher visage suggests. Artistic license allows that which aesthetically pleases and that which will further the theme of the medium. From the same standpoint, Amenabar's version of the destruction of the Serapeum shows the mob burning books to intensify the end of illuminated thinking. However the actual event in 391 did not actually involve the burning of books as the Serapeum was used primarily as a temple rather than a library.

Bottom line? Despite some historical inaccuracies, Alejandro Amenabar uses his film "Agora" to remind us that history does indeed repeat itself with the machinations of the heavy-handed using fear and ignorance to move their cause. Perhaps Amenabar's point as an atheist is that all religion manipulates the masses. Whether it be with a fear of the unknown or unfamiliar or an argument over whose god is better, the fanatical fundamentalist armies championing intolerance destroy progressive thought and stall the overall evolution of mankind in favor of their specific agenda. A stirring musical score by Dario Marianelli thrusts the film towards its grisly conclusion while Rachel Weisz as the philosopher Hypatia quietly spouts rhetoric on the side of the truth and the absolute quest for knowledge. No one in the supporting cast listens and the world goes mad. Recommended with warnings of much violence and a brutal ending.
Diana Faillace Von Behren

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April 20, 2011
welcome back, Diana! Love the review and I put it in my queve, I am actually stunned that I put this film on to the side. Great work with "...indeed repeat itself with the machinations of the heavy-handed using fear and ignorance".
April 21, 2011
Thanks! More to follow-- Diana
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