Monday, March 21, 2011

Film Review: Agora (2009)

It feels like it's been awhile since I've posted about a film, mainly because I haven't watched anything new!  Seriously, I've been watching TV on DVD and rewatching period dramas I love.  I did check out the film Agora several weeks ago, mainly because I was curious about the subject matter and love anything that has captured this time period well.

Synopsis:  The film is set in Ancient Egypt under Roman rule at the time of great religious upheaval with Christianity taking a stronger hold in these ancient kingdoms.  As part of this tension, Christianity questioned any old ways of thinking and learning.  Seeing the earth as the center of the universe, they came in direct conflict with the teachings of philosophy professor and atheist Hypatia of Alexandria, who labored to understand the universe and the way it worked, not from religious perspective, but from reasoning and science.

With the conflict in Egypt, Hypatia's life and learning is put in danger except from the love of a Christian student who seems to feel torn between his new religion and the powerful learning experiences he has had with his teacher.  Regardless, Hypatia's passion for knowledge seems to clash with all that has been introduced into their world with religion.

Review:  Before picking up the film, I actually knew a little about Hypatia from history.  She was considered one of the first female mathematicians and scholars, who was an inventor, mathematician, philosopher, and teacher.  From what we know of her, she even refused to dress as the women of her day, preferring to dress in the standards for teachers and other scholars. Her behavior often put her up for criticism and historians believe that she was dragged from her own chariot and dismembered for her beliefs and disregard for social politics.  Sounds like a brave woman, doesn't she?  (You can read a bit more about  her at Encyclopedia Britanica, along with many other great sources on the net.)

Having said that, I think that the film did capture a lot of the passion that this early scholar must have had.  The conflict in the city was gruesome, and really built up the tension that must have existed between the "pagans" of Egypt and the ancient world, and the changing face of Christianity.  I loved some of the open, panoramic scenes of the city, and many of the scenes where Hypatia was teaching her pupils.  From there, it was a bit scattered and lost me a time or two.  The fighting felt a bit much, maybe trying to draw on the crowds who like Gladiator-type film violence?  Yes, it showed the conflict between the Christians and the other religions and philosophers, but it really played out for quite awhile, and I wasn't sure where it was headed.  On the flip side, I loved the scenes that depicted Hypatia singlemindedly searching for an understanding of the universe.  The process that was shown for her reasoning and philosophy were really amazing and inspiring at times.

On the whole, I can't say this was a great film.  Interesting, yes.  For the sake of catching a snippet of history, and considering what it might have been like to be this early female scholar, it was a nice historical drama.

If you're interested, see the trailer below:


  1. The set design looks like it was taken straight out of a Frederic Leighton or Alma-Tadema painting.

  2. It does sound interesting and the look of it is great. Sounds like it's worth the price of a rental.