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Although I’ve not personally been able to get through to Rice University prez myself (surprise surprise), I still feel obligated to explain his perfidy to everyone who is concerned but might not know exactly what …

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Agora

Submitted by admin on July 21, 2010 – 10:38 pmNo Comment

Agora tells a story of religious persecution, public intolerance of minority ideas, and a woman making her way in a man’s world. All of this takes place in the late 4th century and early 5th century and the plot revolves, not unlike the Earth around the Sun, in an elliptical pattern that focuses on small emotional moments mixed with grand spectacular crowd scenes amidst riots and fear.

Agora stars Rachel Weisz as femme scholar Hypathia. The title refers to a public gathering area in ancient Alexandria where public debates were spurred by words and deeds. As far as the accuracy of the film, I may have an encyclopedic knowledge of film but the events depicted in Agora are for scholars to determine what did and didn’t happen.

Imagine if you will a fictional narrative of our own 20th century but written 1300 years from now. A proper femme, a prototype flower child we will name Helen K, teaches advanced comparative religion to a large class of pupils that include Adolph Hitler and John Kennedy. Helen’s teachings inspire heated conversation among the young lads. Time passes and now Helen’s teachings are unpopular as is her mode of spirituality. Hitler and Kennedy, now the world’s leaders, clash against a canvas that includes Mickey Mouse, an Elvis song, class conflict, warfare and the persecution and eventual demise of Helen. That’s kind of the effect of watching Agora. You know some of what’s portrayed is considered history – Hypathia was killed by a mob, fueled by a political and religious riot between two of her former students - but the facts are jumbled together and time and events crushed to make it all happen at once.

Under the eyes of Spanish director Alejandro Amenábar Agora rejoices in splendid overhead shots that show the Alexandria library as a place of learning as much as in the midst of an armed conflict. In fact one such shots speeds up the motion to where all the figures are like ants scurrying from one place to another. Amenábar even pushes his camera back further at select times during the film to show us a deity-like outer space point-of-view. The temples and statues of Alexandria recede to show the greater Middle East and then shoot out of the atmosphere like a Google map.

There’s a lot to recommend in Agora. It certainly doesn’t fit the boring mode of summer blockbusters. It’s not the same old costume drama a la Gladiator, although for some that may be a deal killer. There are many points to be made but Amenábar makes them appear like bullet points on a web page. And there’s the tendency of Amenábar, as well as every director since Michael Mann and The Insider, to use background music that sounds like Lisa Gerard era Dead Can Dance moaning, wailing vocals and ethnic strains of music to emphasize moments like the Christians picking up rocks with which to kill Hypathia. But those small moments are overwhelmed by the larger ideas and eternal emotions on display in Agora.

- Michael Bergeron

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