My friend Doc told me about Agora quite a while ago, and I promptly forgot about it. He mentioned it again after he purchased the movie on DVD and I borrowed it from him. So, after letting it incubate on my shelf for a while, I finally got around to watching it with the wife tonight.
So, the plot:
Actually, no, before the plot summary I am gonna apologize for the fact that I am certain my summary will do the film no justice. My bad, not theirs.
So, for reals now, the plot:
The film takes place in Alexandria immediately prior, during and after the burning of the library of Alexandria. Known as the greatest repository of knowledge in the ancient world. The Roman empire is still pagan, though there are also Jews and they are somewhat tolerant of the new Christian religion. We are introduced to Hypatia, who is a philosopher and mathematician, and instructs students in the science of her time at the great library. Meanwhile the Christians are growing increasingly bold, causing an overreaction by the ruling pagan noble classes. After much bloodshed, the library is burned and the government becomes increasingly Christian, though it is intimated that this is mostly due to political expediency. Hypatia remains unconvinced of the religion’s validity, preferring to study the natural world, while her slave Davus finds the new religion appealing, though he is conflicted due to his secret love for Hypatia. After seizing political power and legitimacy, the Christians turn their attentions to the Jews, and after more bloodshed, drive them from the city. Years pass and Hypatia’s former students have risen to positions of power within the government, but the empire is now nearly a total theocracy, making their association with her an uncomfortable one. She must choose between her philosophy and her safety. Hilarity most certainly does not ensue.
I’m iffy on historical fiction in general, but I have a deep love for science and an interest in religion and how it has shaped and still shapes the world we live in. While watching the movie it occurred to me how impressive it was that none of the three main religio-politico factions have any moral high ground. Each it serving only it’s own bullshit interests, completely unaware of the ridiculous contradictions inherent in their own accusations against the others.
One of the side plots is Hypatia’s search for a rational explanation of the observable behaviors of the planets and sun, after she grows increasingly unsatisfied with the Ptolemic model. These portions of the movie reminded me of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series, the viewing of which surprised me more than once by detailing some incredibly astute discovery of science that occurred centuries before I would have imagined. A highlight for a science junkie like me.
Unfortunately, the movie does often let you feel the full weight of its 2+ hour running time. I can’t pin down what I would cut if it were up to me, but I did find myself shifting in my seat occasionally, which is never a good sign. There is a lot of information here, and maybe trimming out one angle or another might have tightened up the pace. Everything does seem to be dependent on everything else throughout the movie though, so again I’m at a loss for an alternative.
Settings are beautiful, and there is more than one shot of the earth from space, sometimes with the audio of the events that are transpiring. This gives a great sense of the futility of these struggles over petty, meaningless religions, while in the grand scheme of things, the world will just keep on going regardless.
Once again, the wife dug the movie as well, and we have agreed to name the next dog we get Hypatia.
Check out the trailer here.