Monday, June 07, 2010

The movie Agora - quite good!

The clip above is from Agora - the movie was made in English, with mainly British actors, judging by the accents, even though it was made by a Spanish company. The clip above is in English with Italian subtitles - I couldn't find any other non-trailer type clips.

In this clip we see Rachel Weisz as Hypatia and Oscar Isaac as Orestes, once Hypatia's pupil and now her friend. He's now Roman prefect of Alexandria, and a Christian convert, although probably only because it was politically expedient.

Hypatia is conducting a simple and elegant physics experiment involving gravity and motion. One of the most impressive aspects of this movie was the way it gave a coherent account of Hypatia's discoveries concerning celestial physics, culminating in her work on the elliptical nature of the Earth's orbit around the sun.

The movie isn't exactly a laugh riot, but what humor there is, is usually supplied by Orestes, as in this scene. It's not hysterically funny, but it got a laugh - she explains her reaction to the experiment and he says "What does that mean?"

It was the timing and the way he said it - and like I said, this movie isn't exactly a big comedy, especially since Hypatia is murdered at the end.

It's not a perfect movie - there should have been at least one other female who got a speaking role. The movie definitely does not pass the Bechdel test. I mean, they didn't even give Hypatia any female slaves in this movie to wait on her when she was taking a bath - she had two male slaves attending her. This seems very unlikely. Since they took the trouble to invent the character of Davos, Hypatia's slave who loves her, they certainly could have given her a female friend or relative or servant to speak to.

Really Hypatia hardly has any personal life at all, something which the character actually comments on. But they could have given her a little more time as a person and less as an icon. They didn't need quite so many shots of conflict as they used.

Speaking of conflict though, one of the very surprising and admirable aspects of this movie is the way it faithfully represents the savagery and power politics of the early Christians, and the conflicts between Christianity and paganism, Christianity and Judaism, and even Christian vs. Christian. The prefect Orestes is almost murdered by a mob of Christians for not being Christian enough for their liking. Very realistic!

Hypatia becomes a sort of atheist martyr, one of the only hold-outs against Christianity which is being forced on all the pagans - the Christians didn't try to convert the Jews, they just drove them out of Alexandria.

I was surprised at how affecting her martyrdom scene was - I cried. And although it was partly sadness at seeing a good person killed, it was more than that. In this movie, Hypatia represents the human quest for knowledge - she's sort of the living embodiment of the Library at Alexandria, the fabled repository of the wisdom of the ancient Greeks and Romans. And once the Christians destroyed the Library, getting rid of Hypatia was the next step. So the tears were also about witnessing the triumph of ignorance, misogyny and mob-rule over intellectual curiosity. Something that routinely happens in schools and workplaces, in my experience.

The movie also looked great - great zoom in and out shots from the cosmos to the Earth and back. Alexandria looked great and historically convincing, and the costumes were great. And Rupert Evans is absolutely smokin' as Synesius, Bishop of Cyrene. He's a beautiful man, and with long hair he's like the patron saint of lust. See next post for more details.