Last week I saw Agora. I was initially attracted by the director, Alejandro Amenàbar, who had impressed me with Abre Los Ojos and The Others, but the subject matter also intrigued me: an ancient Egyptian philosopher and astronomer called Hypatia, inter-religious conflict, the destruction of the library at Alexandria. The fact that it stars Rachel Weisz didn’t hurt either.
The film is absorbing and well acted, but more importantly it has much to say about knowledge and the search for truth, women’s position within society, and multiculturalism. I was moved by Hypatia’s intelligence and her determination to discover the true nature of Earth’s place in the universe, regardless of the danger in which she was putting herself. Some Christian groups have complained about the way in which Christianity is portrayed in the film. On the one hand they are undoubtedly the villains of the piece, violently suppressing controversial assertions, oppressing dissenters and telling Hypatia basically to get back in the kitchen. On the other hand one of the most moving sections of the film comes early on when an evangelical Christian converts someone by teaching him how to show charity to beggars. The pagans and Jews both come into conflict with the Christians, but none of the groups are shown to be entirely blameless, and in the end everyone has blood on their hands. It’s precisely the fact that we are given no easy answers that makes the film thought-provoking.
By the way, the film features many of those now clichéd shots where we zoom in from space to a close-up of a scene on Earth. The difference here is that these shots are some of the most technically impressive and seamless ones I’ve ever seen (well done to Spanish visual effects company El Ranchito), but they’re also appropriate in the context of the film, rather than a meaningless visual flourish, as they represent literally a God’s eye view.