Directed by Alejandro Amenábar
Starring: Rachel Weisz, Max Minghella, Oscar Isaac, Rupert Evans, Ashraf Barhom
Grade: C -
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A rather long prelude of events leads to the collapse of Alexandria’s Roman temple, setting in motion a tumultuous future for Hypatia’s pagan community, which must now deal with the pressures of conforming to Christian ideology. While more traditional religious “epics” (e.g. “Ben Hur” or “Spartacus”) deal with a community's active rebellion against change, “Agora” feels like a meditative overview, much freer in structure. Amenábar isn’t preoccupied with displaying battles and laying down definitive plot points, so he's able to address the principal theme of faith versus philosophy through Hypatia’s passive brand of resistance. She navigates the sparse streets while contemplating whether the Earth orbits the Sun or vice versa, blithely unconcerned with religion and intellectually superior to the peripheral squabble. As a critique of society’s general intolerance towards nonconformity, there is at least something to say here, but it soon becomes clear that “Agora” isn't the film to say it.
Weisz is perhaps too old to play her part convincingly—not in any cosmetic sense, but rather in the sense that her intellectual assuredness prevents Hypatia's dreamer characteristics from being fully realized onscreen. The film would have been better served if Amenábar had allowed Weisz to exercise some creative license with Hypatia, finding conflict within herself and the transitory state of Roman life rather than pitting herself against the rest of the world. “Agora” falls hesitantly into the middle ground either because Amenábar is unwilling to make a film about a virgin who doesn’t entertain the idea of sex, or (more likely) because he’s unable to concede fault or doubt in his heroine. Likewise, the redundancy of picturesque visuals is telling. The ante is upped, but there’s a tentative refusal on the filmmakers' parts to let the history speak for itself, a sensational endeavor to fashion a love triangle out of very little, and a suppression of any concrete discussion that briefly emerges. Christianity conquers, Roman culture teeters on the brink of extinction, and “Agora” creeps into the realm of the disingenuous.