Customer Review

73 of 96 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hypatia, August 5, 2010
This review is from: Agora (DVD)
The major character in this large-scale film, "Agora" (2009) is Hypatia of Alexandria (350? - 415 A.D.), a beautiful and brilliant philosopher and mathematician performed by Rachel Weisz. Set in Alexandria, Egypt, this film is an expensive, lavish production, a throwback in many ways to other extravagant epics set in ancient Greece or Rome. The film is Spanish in origin and directed by Alejandro Amenebar. The movie is serious in intent. It portrays Hypatia as a scholar without religious belief intent only upon free disinterested scientific inquiry. She is caught in the turbulence of 4th Century Alexandria in the decaying Roman Empire in the violence among pagans, Jews, and Christians. The violence results in the destruction of the storied Library of Alexandria, a treasure house of wisdom in the ancient world. Religious fanaticism and sectarianism also leads to Hypatia's death at the hands of a Christian mob.

Other than Weisz' portrayal of the heroine, the acting in this movie tends to be wooden and the dialogue stilted. The most effective scenes are those of Hypatia in her study. She is a renowned teacher whose students include individual from all creeds and status united only by the desire to learn. She is a geometer who has studied the properties of cones. A student of Ptolemy, Hypatia becomes skeptical of his geocentric model of the solar system in which the earth is at the center. She becomes interested in the theory that the planets revolve around the sun. The difficulties she finds in this theory result from, among other things, the teleological view of reality she inherits from Plato and Aristotle which teaches that movement of astronomical bodies in their orbits must be circular because the circle is the most perfect shape. The movie shows Hypatia working away from this theory towards a more modern understanding.

Much of the movie consists of the mob scenes and violence common to epic films of the ancient world. There is large-scale, brutal fighting between Christians and pagans and between Christians and Jews as the Christians are shown as mindlessly and violently destroying what was best in the ancient world. In the film, Hypatia is shown as having at least three suitors, one a former slave, and another a highly placed prefect who tries to bring a balance between the claims of the Church and the competing voices of paganism. Hypatia rejects romantic love in scenes that are muffled in their purpose and mostly confused.

The problem I found with the movie was that its format does not work to convey the complexity of the issues that it tries to raise. Instead, it offers what on its face is a garish, expensive production which, whatever its virtues as entertainment, does not encourage reflection. "Agora" has its heart in the right place in its skepticism and commitment to free inquiry, but the cost is great oversimplification of philosophical and historical issues and anachronism. While this movie has been praised for its portrayal of free inquiry and for its critique of religious exclusivism, it doesn't grapple in any depth with its themes. A rather free-wheeling historical epic seems to me to contrast with the quiet, independent spirit and thought that the movie tries properly to attribute to Hypatia. I was frustrated by the movie and unconvinced that it left me wiser than I had been before about Alexandria, Hypatia, or religion and science. It seems to me that the movie substitutes one set of oversimplified platitudes for another.

Robin Friedman
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Comments

Tracked by 5 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 23 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Aug 9, 2010 8:01:25 AM PDT
H. Schneider says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

Posted on Aug 9, 2010 9:58:49 AM PDT
Don't let me dscourage you. You might see it differently.

Posted on Aug 16, 2010 12:33:04 AM PDT
I found it interesting that this movie was completely ignored in the best foreign film category at the Academy Awards, and elsewhere as well!

Posted on Oct 19, 2010 2:58:52 PM PDT
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 20, 2010 6:24:46 AM PDT
Yeah, and the inquisition never burned anyone at the stake even though they kept meticulous records otherwise. Also 'sounds like' indicates you never saw the movie, otherwise you would know that their was no sex in it. However I'm sure you just love the ultra violent The Pasion of The Christ by "Moral Mel"

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 23, 2010 3:39:45 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 23, 2010 3:40:34 AM PDT
galtgulch says:
For those who seek a deeper concentrated effort to advocate for free inquiry be aware that Atlas Shrugged is being made into a movie in three parts. The book of course is already available in print and worth reading. Thanks for your penetrating review. I know about Hypatia and love Rachel Weisz so despite the shortcomings will find a way to see this movie. Thank you for your review.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 25, 2010 3:54:56 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Dec 30, 2010 10:38:50 AM PST
Was ATLAS SHRUGGED about free inquiry? I thought it was about how wonderful absolute capitalism is, and how great men shouldn't be beholden to society at large.

Posted on Dec 30, 2010 8:40:28 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 30, 2010 8:53:38 AM PST
Excellent review. I never saw it, but your incite seems reasonable. However, can't one enjoy it and gain from it, despite its shortcomings?

Also, do you have suggestions on how the producers could have done the job in such a way as to successfully accomplish what you critized?

Without having seen the video, I feel that maybe you should have rated it 4 stars rather than 3 --- I think I may change my mind if I see it, of course.

Best wishes, Jay (retired in Tallahassee, born in DC, lived in suburbs my working life)

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 7, 2011 6:49:58 AM PST
Thanks for your kind comment. I would be interested in how you see the movie. I had mixed feelings about the movie and know that some people can view it differently. It still left me largely unconvinced.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 7, 2011 12:38:56 PM PST
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]
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Robin Friedman
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Location: Washington, D.C. United States