Agora (2009) Alejandro Amenabar
Production Budget: $70 million
Worldwide Gross: $38 million
Agora is a historical drama taking place in Roman controlled Egypt. The first half is about Christians rising to power over the pagans and destroying the library at Alexandria. The second half is about the Christians 20 years later when they become more militant. They believe that since the Roman Empire is crumbling that the world is coming to an end. They seek to enforce morality and start seeing the Jews as enemies to be defeated. Within this larger story we get the personal account of the philosopher Hypatia (Rachel Weisz). One of her students Orestes and Hypatia’s slave Davus both are in love with her. Later on both of those people will take on more powerful roles that play a part in Hypatia’s life.
I’m frankly stunned at times what gets greenlighted. I’m not saying this as a slight against the movie. I’m more saying it because I can’t predict what Hollywood will do. Spielberg directing Lincoln with Daniel Day Lewis starring? Hmmmmm, I’ll have to think about it. Uwe Boll? Here’s your truckload of money. Fifteen times a charm eh? So when you tell me they are making an epic movie on the destruction of the library of Alexandria, it puzzles me a bit. This topic excites my nerd brain (so does seeing Rachel Weisz’s ass or possibly stunt ass) but I wonder why they thought this was going to be a hit. Well it didn’t in the US at least. It made $600,000 domestically and I didn’t hear one word about it until it came out at my Blockbuster. Most of the time when I see these movies hit the shelves, I can reasonably predict that oh, 98% of them will be uninspired boring crap. Agora is in that 2% category.
I might as well address the elephant in the room and talk about the religious aspect. I’m sure if there are going to be complaints lodged against this movie it is going to be that this is an anti-Christian movie. This is not anti-Christian as it is anti-fundamentalism or anti-radicalism. The Pagans in this movie as well as the Jews and the Christians are as guilty of letting their faith and dogma turn into violent thoughts and actions. Their beliefs turned into fear and alienation of those who do not share those beliefs. This culminates in one of the biggest steps back in science, reason, and logic in the destruction of the library of Alexandria. Simple human empathy and reason should tell us we are all equal instead of a dogma which instills an ‘us versus them’ mentality in its followers. But I am not going to hammer this point any more than I have to.
This movie is carried on the back of Rachel Weisz. Not only is Hypatia a strong female character but a strong character. Period. She is a person whose thinking is grounded in reason, compassion, and logic. She is someone who is willing to change her beliefs based on evidence and not on dogmatic conviction. In fact, one of the more powerful moments is when she throws out her preconceived notions that the universe has to run on Ptolomy’s perfect circles and works toward where the evidence leads (which is an elliptical path). It’s nerdy as all hell but it is one of the better scenes. Weisz does a great job in this movie. She is trying to keep her cool when seemingly the whole world is falling apart. She doesn’t fall into the usual pitfall of being just a love interest. Hypatia realizes she enjoys her freedom and her pursuit of knowledge and she follows her passion.
The movie feels epic and looks great. The sets, the CGI, and the costumes are all quality. And even though I say ‘epic’ this movie is only a little over two hours. Now this movie isn’t all great. At times the story does lag and the two male supporting roles don’t get as much material as they probably deserve. Davus and Orestes have good characters but they are pushed a bit to the back I think to streamline the story. Overall, I think this is a very good movie. This is not your typical epic movie about a love triangle in the middle of some catastrophe. Agora strives to be more thoughtful and, despite a few flaws, succeeds for the most part.