Starring Rachel Weisz
Saturday, April 16, 2011
Agora- A Parrothead movie review
Starring Rachel Weisz
Someone with a better understanding and knowledge of the cinema arts will rightly disagree with me but from my perspective most movies these days seem a morass of sequels, prequels, reboots, and remakes leaving little in the way of originality. Yes, I understand great movies exist like “The King’s Speech”, Schindler’s List, and others but for every one intelligent and thoughtful film seeking to explore life ten others of the lowest common denominator dominate the local multiplex.
I enjoy a good horror, action, or mindless comedy movie like everyone else but there are times I long for something that doesn’t depend on rivers of spilled co-ed blood or massive explosions blowing the bodies of generic evildoers apart to entertain or make a point. When I am lucky enough to stumble across a movie that not only enlightens something of the human condition as well as entertains I move heaven and earth to be left alone and see it before it disappears. I recently found such a movie and as usual, it was strictly by accident.
Dragonwife popped for Showtime last month because of the upcoming series on the Borgias, which meets my snobbish criteria but it was another movie showing this month that I found to be a very pleasant surprise. Last Saturday morning while surfing the television I stopped just long enough to catch sight of the beautiful Rachael Weisz dressed in some sort of ancient Roman female attire, thoughts of Roman-era escapades passed through my largely empty brain and froze me in place. For the better it turned out to be nothing of the decadent and immoral sort but the unknown movie I found still held me in place.
Turns out Ms. Weisz was portraying the ancient real-life mathematician Hypatia, born in Roman Egypt somewhere around 350 to 370 AD. The movie is called “Agora” and while it took me a couple of days to find time to sit through the entire movie I was very satisfied when I was at last able to experience this film that, to my knowledge, went largely unappreciated.
The movie is set in ancient Alexandria, Egypt in the year 391AD with the Roman Empire in steep decline and the new Christian religion on an equally steep ascension. Hypatia is not only a mathematician but a teacher, philosopher, and astronomer puzzled by the flaws of the Ptolemaic view of the universe putting Earth at the center of everything. She knows of the heliocentric theory putting the sun at the center but she can’t overcome the discrepancies involving the strange path the “wanderers”, or other planets of the known solar system, take in the night sky.
While this is going on Hypatia is caught up in the Christianization of the decaying Roman Empire and the attentions of one her students, Orestes, who eventually becomes the Roman appointed ruler of Alexandria and her slave, Davus who is both an assistant, servant and who loves her in secret. In the backdrop of this is the lost wonder of the Library of Alexandria where she teaches and the interaction of the two men who love her come into play. Hypatia is far more interested in science and very resistant to the romantic attention of Orestes, she knows the minute she marries her rights are greatly hamstrung with her becoming subservient to any possible husband. Given that Davus is a slave Hypatia is completely oblivious to him other than as a useful tool.
At the same time conflict is slowly brewing between the pagan believers of the old Roman gods and those believe in the emerging Christian faith. When the Christians start defiling statues of the pagan gods the pagans, filled with rage, rally and attack the Christians only to be overwhelmed and retreat, taking refuge in the Library which the Christians already have a problem because of what it represents. Under siege the pagan holdup in the library until an envoy of the Emperor comes from Rome and pardons them but turns over the Library to the Christians who promptly burn it and the priceless contents inside.
Hypatia’s slave, Davus who had been flirting with the idea of becoming Christian joins them after being insulted by Hypatia who is panicking while trying to save at least some small portion of the library’s contents. In a rage Davus almost rapes his mistress but doesn’t, the aftermath in all this is that Hypatia frees and allows him to run away.
Years later Hypatia’s former student Orestes is now the ruler of Alexandria and a Christian. Hypatia is still investigating the heliocentric theory which many of the Christians ridicule along with resenting the influence she appears to have over Orestes. Alexandria is still seething with religious turmoil as the Jews and Christians now come into conflict with the Christians ultimately taking total control of the city. This sets the stage for Hypatia and the Christian leaders of the city to clash with Hypatia losing in the end.
Two things drew me into this movie, the first being that I was “introduced” to the person Hypatia years ago by Carl Sagan in his series “Cosmos.” He spoke of her brilliance and wistfully of her reported beauty, and how she was a lady thousands of years before her time. Whenever I learn of such a person in history I wonder what their intellect could accomplish. On that same note, how many Hypatias, Da Vincis, and Ben Franklins waste away now unable to develop their talents for stupid reason like lack of money for education?
The second thing that drew me into this movie was how as angry and ignorant men hacked everyone within reach to pieces over superstition, the center piece of their existences, the scene would pull away eventually showing the small blue marble we all live hanging in space all alone. For me it was a testament that most of things we humans believe and do are as inconsequential as the particles of dust drifting in the air around us. I don’t mean to attack anyone’s faith, but I find it funny that while the tenets of all major religions teach of peace, brotherhood, and love many of the followers of these faiths go out of their way to make up loopholes allowing them to slaughter unbelievers and heretics.
Needless to say I very highly recommend “Agora” and suggest you either catch it on Showtime or rent the DVD. I wish more movies like that were made and had a wider American audiences.