Friday, May 21, 2010

Agora **

Director: Alejandro Amenábar
Cast: Rachel Weisz
Max Minghella, Oscar Isaac, Sami Samir, Rupert Evans
Michael Lonsdale, Ashraf Barhom

Agora is a highly ambitious, if not entirely effective, parable that uses the life of Hypatia of Alexandria to deliver its views on modern times.
The famous philosopher is played by Rachel Weisz who with her timeless, ethereal beauty does justice to the crush the director has on the character.
His Hypatia is a strong willed woman who becomes the center of men's lives and ignites passion, fear and admiration within them.
One of them is her slave Davus (Minghella) who secretly becomes a Christian to see if this god will grant his wish of making Hypatia fall for him. Another is her pupil Orestes (Isaac) who declares his love for her in song form.
But she remains indifferent to their feelings and dedicates her time to the study of the universe, particularly what is its center and how gravity, stars, circles, orbs and planets all interfere with one another.
Because we know that most of the topics she's obsessed with, became concepts until centuries later (and the film never really makes her discoveries exciting enough), Amenábar has an easy way to get rid of her emotional depth and turn her into a selfish character whose obsession with knowledge isn't as prominent as her detachment from humanity.
When in the film's centerpiece (a remarkable scene that teases us of the epic possibilities the film loses), the Christians destroy the Library of Alexandria, Hypatia sobs at the loss of books and not at the destruction of life around her.
Her dedication to the written word and science at least distract her from the conflicts between Christians, Pagans and Jews.
Christians being the new religion and all try to impose their views on everyone and seek to exterminate those who disagree. We all know how this went but instead of rubbing in our faces how misled our conception of religion has been, the film really turns the Christians into outlandish movie villains.
Fully dressed in black they wreak havoc across Alexandria, screaming "hallelujah" and looking like Satan's minions.
While it's true that Christianism (especially Roman Catholicism) has proven in the last decades to be plagued with immorality and corruption, what does the film achieve by reinforcing viciousness?
What can we make of the film's discourse when it only explores motives on the surface? The director seemingly wants to say something about the way intolerance has shaped history but mostly ends up revealing his own shortsightedness.
It's quite clear that he's on the side of "reason", seeing how he tries to glorify Hypatia in every scene and Weisz does a convincing job playing someone who's both muse and heroine.
"I feel that what you say can be refuted but now I don't know how" she says at one point and Weisz provides her for a second with a warmth that reassures us that she will find how before she's skinned alive by Christians in the end.
Agora's biggest setback is its inability to see its limitations. When it becomes clear that the screenplay (written by Amenábar and Mateo Gil) doesn't know how to create characters, the director should've worked with their flaws instead of perpetuating them.
Seeing how Davus, Orestes and Hypatia all have secret, perhaps unjustified, motivations, why not use them as metaphors of selfcenteredness and its relation to eternal intolerance?
It's clear to the audience at least that because all the characters are living exclusively for themselves they're unable to perceive the world around them.
In the same way the movie, in its effort to rediscover the center of the universe, ended up losing its own.


Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Aaah, I feel important forced you into a review (even though it serves me right that you don't like it). I'm not sure if I'm "surprised" that you don't like it, I mean I guess the Christians are shown in a negative light...but they're also shown positively (the scene with the bread sharing is quite poignant). But I really liked it, good review nonetheless.

Jose said...

Hahaha honestly yes, you pushed me into writing this.
Also I don't mind the movie's treatment of the Christians exclusively. I don't give a damn about the Christians (that does not sound right I know), my problem is that Amenábar has said time and time again that this movie was meant to show us the irrational nature of intolerance and how what happened back there still happens now.
However his vilification of the Christians (I repeat I have nothing for or against them) can be compared to what Mel Gibson did to the Jews in that awful Jesus porn movie.
My point is that he can't preach about tolerance when it's clear he's made up his mind about what team he's on. The movie would've been better if he had decided it'd be a full out critique of Christianity. Heck, I'd even have enjoyed that probably.

Simon said...

Great review, if only I had interest in such biopics.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

I wonder if you were influenced by expectation then...I knew nothing of it (litte about Hypatia even) and I was just surprised...I'll rewatch it whenever comes out on DVD to see if I still love it as much. But for the while it's my favourite of the year, and it looks like it'll be that way for a while.

PS. Fish Tank was something interesting, I don't know how I'm going to review that. I've been sitting on it for two weeks now, as is.

Jose said...

Simon: thanks!

Andrew: I don't think I was influenced by expectation as much as I was disappointed by the altogether chaos of the movie. If it counts for something I really liked the visual themes and transitions Alejandro used.
I will write something about that soon, if the movie had been faithful to what it got well it could've been great!

Tim O'Neill said...

The clumsiness of the writer/director's message is made worse by the fact that he distorted history to fit it with his agenda. See for details.

buy generic viagra said...

What an excellent movie is perfect because of the fact the Director uses the life of Hypatia of Alexandria, I like when the Director has this kind of sense in order to deliver us something really good.