Agora: The Movie Review
Director: Alejandro Amenabar
Agora (which, in Greek, means an open market, or open space where people gather) is one of the better movies I have seen in a while. It is successful on many levels. It takes what little historical information is available about Hypatia (whose name means highest, or supreme), and the conflicting political/religious/social dramas that were being played out near the turn of the fourth century in Alexandria, and weaves them into a thoughtful and potent tale that focuses on our ideas and beliefs about religion, science, and the importance/necessity of free thought.
The back drop is Alexandria, Egypt circa 395 AD; a tumultuous time when Christianity began to assert itself, and wipe out what was left of the “pagan” belief systems of ancient Egypt. Scientific (read heretical) and philosophical thought, and Judaism become casualties in the process. [As an Interesting aside, Agora is also the Hebrew word for the Israeli penny]
Agora does not show any favoritism toward any religion, but instead explores the dangers of extremity; the darkness that can envelope us when we are too caught-up in our belief systems, whatever they may be.
And so, Hypatia, (played by Rachel Weisz)
As the movie progresses, we see that Hypatia has won over the hearts and minds of two men; one of them is her student/disciple, Orestes (played by Oscar Isaac), and the other is her father’s slave Davus (played by Max Minghella). While Davus longs for her in secret, praying to the god of his newly adopted religion (Christianity) that no other man will have her, Orestes makes his feelings know publicly, declaring his devotion to her with a musical offering during the intermission of an open air theatrical performance. Oh, foolish heart; the bigger they come, the harder they fall! Hypatia’s one and only true love is, of course, knowledge. And she later responds to Orestes with an equally dramatic gesture.
The slave, Davus, is torn between his feelings and loyalty for Hypatia, and the Christian religion he has embraced, and as tensions rise and the religious conflicts escalate, he is forced to make a choice between the two. Later, Orestes, who becomes Alexandria’s Prefect, is forced to make the same choice as the fate of Hypatia hangs in the balance.
Sami Samir adds much dramatic force to Agora in his role as the compelling, Cyril, a Christian devotee who rises to power as the Bishop of Alexandria.
Agora, was well done, overall. The only thing I didn’t really care for was the director’s decision to include written passages a certain junctures to move the story along. Personally, I have never cared much for voice narration in movies, but written passages, especially in the middle of a movie, impress me even less. Aside from this minor peeve, I thought Agora was innovative, imaginative, educational, and moving. And as with any good tale, there was a moral to the story. Agora imbues you with a sense of responsibility for the beliefs that you harbor, and it also left me wanting to learn more about the place and time in history that it captured. I would highly recommend this movie.