Reviews: Agora

Earnest, but Disingenuous and Clunky

Many people heard about Hypatia through Carl Sagan's Cosmos. In it, he related the story of Hypatia, a scholar murdered by a Christian mob, as a warning about the dangerous of religious fanaticism versus reason. It's certainly a useful story, but it's not a particularly true one. After Agora came out, there was a great deal of writing concerning its historical accuracy: put simply, what history was present was massively distorted.

History isn't my realm of study, so I won't say a whole lot - others have done far better. So instead I'lll talk about how it fares as a movie.

It's certainly pretty to look at. It's got a nice sense of scope and has detailed sets. Rachel Weisz is very well cast as Hypatia, and is convincing and credible in the role. However, the characters are paper-thin. Hypatia is a pristine martyr whose sole flaw is her acceptance of slavery. Cyril is almost cartoonishly evil and has absolutely no nuance or depth. The slave character invented to facilitate a love triangle, Davus, is a flat character who has no real growth and contributes almost nothing to the plot, and indeed barely figures into the story after the halfway mark.

The movie is in two parts. The first part is about the Christians destroying the Library of Alexandria, and the second part is about Hypatia beating Kepler to the punch on elliptical orbits, and then her getting murdered by a Christian mob 'cause she was a woman and a scientist and Christianity caused the dark ages. The movie makes a big deal about burning scrolls and scientific models when they storm the library, and we get a bird's-eye view of them, and then it speeds up for some reason. I don't get why the director did this. What's he doing with it? I saw one reviewer say it was to show it as being "petty and inconsequential," but if that were the case it wouldn't be one of the centerpieces in a two-hour movie, which he is using to present the message that Christians caused the dark ages. Hardly "inconsequential" by that rhetoric. Instead it's some kind of artsy thing that just takes me out of the movie because I don't get what it's supposed to be doing.

Oh, and one more thing. Hypatia is an attractive white woman who speaks in clean English diction. The Christian fanatics are brown people with unkempt facial hair and middle-eastern accents. Gee, how subtle.