Archive for the ‘Films rated -0 (Ok)’ Category

Agora (Spain, 2009)

My rating: -0 (Ok)
Bechdel Test:
0 out of 3this is an interesting one as the main character is female and is the only really developed character, but the film completely fails the test.
: Alejandro Amenábar
Cast: Rachel Weisz, Max Minghella, Oscar Isaac
Plot: The story of Hypatia of Alexandria, a female philosopher and astronomer living at a time when Christianity was gaining power in Roman Egypt.

About the film

The great thing about this film is the story. Usually, we hear only of accomplished men of science from the Ancient world, but Hypatia may have been just as talented.
Unfortunately, little about Hypatia has survived. She lived at a time when Christianity was gaining power in the region, which eventually led to the destruction of the library in Alexandria along with much of the knowledge gathered in it.
None of Hypatia’s works survived, so the truth is we only have a vague idea of what she may have been working on, thanks to mentions of her work in other sources from that era. Hypatia herself was brutally murdered by a Christian mob in 415AD.

The film theorizes that Hypatia further developed the theory that it was in fact the Earth that circled the sun and that she managed to calculate the Earth’s trajectory accurately. Whether this is true or not, we will never know, but it’s not impossible. What we certainly do know is that regardless of what she herself studied, she tried to educate others too – she was the head of the Neoplatonic school in Alexandria and was much respected.
Rachel Weisz is excellent as Hypatia – the way she portrays the passion and obsession with science really makes the character come alive. Hypatia is shown as a woman who is extremely open-minded. She questions all ideas and encourages others to do the same. Although she does not try to change the structure of society in any way (her family owns slaves and she seems perfectly content with that), she does believe that science is open to all. Her school has both slaves and people from the upper classes studying together.

Hypatia is a very rich and complex character, but this is not the case with the other characters in the film. None of the other characters has significant screen time and they are all far less developed. The film is particularly poor on female characters. There is a slave girl who is not named and has one important scene (but I don’t think she even speaks in it) and that’s it. This is rather odd – it’s rare for a film to have such a rich and complex female protagonist and then do so badly on all other female characters. It’s somewhat explainable in that women in that time and place did not feature much in public life (Hypatia was the exception rather than the rule), but even so it’s a bit weird.
In the film Hypatia has two students of note – Orestes (Oscar Isaac) who eventually becomes governor (from historical accounts, we know he did indeed attend her classes and held her in very high regard) and Davus (Max Minghella), Hypatia’s slave. Both men are attracted to her, but neither has success with that. Davus, being a slave, is somewhat doomed from the start. Orestes does try to court her, but is turned down in spectacular fashion – she gives him her menstrual rag (this is apparently based on historical accounts though how true this is, who knows).
The two men take very different paths as Alexandria destabilizes, however. Davus joins the Christians and adopts their agenda. Orestes stays pagan as long as it is practical and when he turns Christian it’s not entirely clear whether his beliefs have honestly changed or whether he is simply taking the necessary steps to have political support. He never adopts the more extreme views that some Christians in Alexandria take.

For me Agora is a film very much worth seeing once (and I’m very glad my interest in Oscar Isaac introduced me to it), but I don’t expect to be re-watching it. It’s the character of Hypatia that is so interesting rather than the film itself. I may, however, pick up a biography of Hypatia at some point. She really is fascinating.


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