AGORA (A Place of Assembly)
On a recent trip to Spain I succumbed to my craving, my ambrosial addiction, and went to a movie. How pleased was I that Alejandro Amenabar’s (“The Sea Inside”, a classic favorite ) “Agora” with the enchanting Rachel Weisz had just premiered in Madrid.
Sadly, the movie fell far short of my expectations. I admired the courage and fortitude of Amenabar and Weisz in tackling one of antiquities most inimitable women, Hypatia, the beautiful and brilliant mathematician and astronomer teaching in Alexandria, Egypt in 400 A.D.
Her father Theon, a famed mathematician, supported and encouraged her intellectual precociousness. She became head of the Neo-Platonist school of philosophy in Alexandria. Her eruditeness in the field of science was feared and considered pagan by the early Christians with their intransigent mentality; she refuses to convert and thus seals her destiny.
Lusting after the spectacle; the more plagues, chariot races, sea-partings, destructions of evil empires, the more satiated my cravings. Unfortunately, contemporary technology raises its technological head and destroys the illusion, digitalization screams in all scenes except the sacking of the Alexandria library; the citadel of knowledge dies a realistic and horrific death. Crucified by the ignorant.
Religious quests and conquests: pagans murdering Christians, Christians retaliating but adding Jews to the conflagration; grew tiresome, only Hypatia’s life was riveting. She taught the keenest male minds of the period, but shunned their advances; her energies focused on the celestial and its relationship to the earth.
History and mythology have not neglected but recognized the wisdom and vision of many iconic women. The artist Anselm Kiefer in his book “Women of Antiquity” ranks Hypatia, with Lilith, Pandora and Queen Zenobia, as a prime member of this sorority.
Praise for a valiant effort but “Agora” does not ignite or inspire one’s passions for Hypatia, a woman not just of antiquity but for all ages.
TWO 1/2 STARS!!
I saw the film when it first came out in NYC and loved Weisz' performance as Hypatia. Amenabar distorts 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 don't go to the movies for 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.