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[personal profile] scriptamanet
So I saw Agora today.

I went into this movie very, very excited. It was advertised as being a movie about Hypatia, an incredible philosopher and teacher in 4th century Alexandria. She's potentially the first ever female mathematician, and her work on conics may have aided the accurate charting of the planets and the sun in the seventeenth century. Basically, she was a badass, and I was so excited that someone was making a movie about her.

Unfortunately, the people who made Agora really weren't interested in a movie about Hypatia. At all. In fact, for a large part of the movie, we are seeing her through the eyes of one of the two men in love with her, she's being used to develop their characters and plotlines, or both. Even the mathematical and astronomical discoveries we see her making in the second half of the movie have sprung from one of these two characters challenging the way she thinks. I'm almost willing to go far enough to say that Hypatia really isn't a character in this story at all, as much as it pains me.

Look, I'm rarely the first person to call out -isms in anything, because I am always so certain that my interpretation is riddled with errors which will be called out by the first person who bothers to look. Having said that, this movie made me so angry I cried. They've taken an interesting and powerful woman, a real person who deserves to have her story told, and made her a handy love interest for the story of a governor struggling with Christians and a fictional slave attempting to reconcile his beliefs. One of the only times the audience is offered a real Hypatia is when she's attempting to save the Library of Alexandria. And then the movie uses one of her actions while she's struggling and in pain as the final straw for the fictional slave. Despite the fact that minutes later, she's begging him to come with her, he joins the attacking mob and helps destroy the LIBRARY OF ALEXANDRIA. We're clearly supposed to be sympathizing with him, with his pain and unrequited love. Personally, I was too busy being blatantly horrified. According to the actor, the slave, Davus, was created as "eyes for the audience". What, are we too stupid to be able to sympathize with Hypatia? Too earthly? Fuck that, FUCK THAT.

The best part of this is yet to come. Our "eyes for the audience" joins what's basically a group of vigilante monks under direct command of the Bishop of Alexandria, who go around doing a lot of shitty stuff. At the end of the movie, as Christianity is rising and the government is falling, the monks "arrest" Hypatia, who has been accused of witchcraft. They take her to the church, and strip her naked, but Davus manages to convince his brother monks to stone her to death instead of skinning her alive. While they go out to collect stones, he suffocates her. This is presented as his final act of love. (Oh, I forgot to mention: just after the fall of the library, he threatens Hypatia with a knife, and sexually assaults her before changing his mind.) I can't even comment on this, so I'm just going to move on to the base quality of the movie.

The thing is, it isn't really a bad movie. The graphics and scenery are gorgeous, the script is generally decent, most of the actors are talented. (Most of the bit players who get two lines are exceedingly cheesy, but that's not bad for a historical epic.) In fact, if you're looking for a movie about the dramatic impact of religion towards the end of the Roman Empire, it's really very good. But the advertising didn't feature that. This was supposed to be a movie about Hypatia, and it fucked up.

On the other hand, Rachel Weisz shines. Despite an exceedingly poor writing of Hypatia, she is magnificent and lovely, and every time she smiled I could almost understand why every other male character was in love with her. BUT I DIGRESS.

The other thing this movie does very well is the scene in which a mob of Christians1 destroy the Library of Alexandria, like I mentioned before. This sequence just wrecked me. From the moment when Hypatia and her students realize what's going to happen, I started crying these huge, awful sobs. I am certain my fellow movie-goers thought I was nuts. But they start destroying statues and throwing scrolls onto fires, and something in me just snapped. Every time they showed scenes in the library later in the movie, I'd start crying again. Unfortunately, I don't think I can count this in the movie's favor; the scene is clearly meant to allow you to sympathize with poor rejected, maligned Davus. Although he probably had a fair point, I just couldn't do it. I found the whole thing despicable.

In short, Agora is a great movie about the religious insanity that dominated the fall of the western half of the Roman Empire. However, it is a piss-poor narrative on the life of an incredible woman who deserves better.

In entirely other news: [livejournal.com profile] zeitheist , I'm so sorry I haven't replied to your email yet. Moving in to our house has just been insane, and I've also been fairly busy stomping around and being angry at people. My reply is forthcoming, I promise. ♥

1. I'm afraid I can't be bothered to discuss the religious themes in this movie here, especially because they're not half as problematic as its depiction of Hypatia, but feel free to bring it up.

Date: 2010-08-23 10:48 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] zeitheist.livejournal.com
Dude, thank god you said something - I was getting irrationally worried that perhaps your parents had somehow read the e-mail and were sending the cops after me. I'm glad it wasn't that! Sorry you're stressed out, though. Reply when you're able to but don't rush it, k? ♥

Date: 2010-08-23 01:25 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] scriptamanet26.livejournal.com
I don't see why reading this email would make my parents send the cops after you. Besides Jamie, I guess. And the porn recs. OKAY, FINE. I figure I'll get it done today if my parents don't try to make me clean things. *crosses fingers*

Date: 2010-08-23 02:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nova33.livejournal.com
Oh dude, that sucks - you were looking forward to that film!

Date: 2010-08-23 02:20 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] scriptamanet26.livejournal.com
I think the worst part was that I'd been looking forward to it for so long, because it came out in Ottawa ages ago and I never got the chance to see it.

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