Wednesday, December 1, 2010

New Release Review: Agora (Alejandro Amenabar, 2010)

Agora, directed by Alejandro Amenabar (The Sea Inside, The Others), targets a really interesting period of Roman Egypt, as prominent female philosopher, astronomer and atheist Hypatia (Rachel Weisz in a fine performance) attempts to challenge already established Ptolemaic theories and explain the mystery of Earth's movement around the sun. Set in Alexandria in the 4th Century, there begins a rising tide of social unrest as the Pagans begin to be publicly challenged by the formerly banned religion of Christianity. Following a serious defilement of Pagan statues, the Pagans ambush the Christians to try and quash their growing influence. They soon find themselves outnumbered by a huge Christian conglomeration, forced to retreat into the library, which is eventually overrun and it's contents destroyed. Hypatia and her people are surrendered to the violent rise of Christianity, whose callous principles begin to reform the entire city. Hypatia, who wishes to remain an independent scientist, rejects the declaration of love by one of her students, Orestes (Oscar Isaac). Orestes will later become a Prefect of Alexandria. Hypatia's slave Davus (Max Minghella) assists her with her classes, and shares her passion for science, but is secretly in love with her. As most of the remaining citizens reform to Christianity, including Orestes for political advantages, Hypatia remains an atheist, and a strong believer in philosophy. She becomes a vulnerable target of the Christian leaders due to her influence over her male pupils and most notably Orestes governing. It all becomes quite depressing and Agora is sure to raise some angry emotions as it examines the clash of religious beliefs with those of scientific philosophy. While it's certainly an interesting period piece, it's characters are very one-dimensional and the cinematography during the intense battle sequences is as sporadic as the sword-wielding. Rachel Weisz gives an excellent performance, but I liked very little else.

My Rating: 3 Stars


  1. I saw Agora when it first came out in NYC and loved Weisz' performance as Hypatia. The film was beautifully shot and a bit uneven. Amenabar distorted some history in service to his art (the Library didn't end that way and Synesius wasn't a jerk), but that's what artists do. I go to the movies for entertainment, not history. For people who want to know more about the historical Hypatia, I highly recommend a very readable biography Hypatia of Alexandria by Maria Dzielska (Harvard University Press, 1995). I also have a series of posts on the historical events and characters in the film at my blog - not a movie review, just a "reel vs. real" discussion.

  2. I didn't find the characters one dimensional at all. I loved the way they went into the science too.