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• Agora

Modern moviegoers have the attention spans of small children, so it doesn’t surprise me that Agora was overlooked when it was quietly released into a handful of theaters in 2009.  Its subject matter is less than appealing for the Christian leaning United States, a majority of whom will not want to be reminded of this particular slice of history.  The story takes place at the end of the Roman empire in Alexandria, 391 A.D., when Christianity was beginning to flex its new found political power to squash anything in their way, which would eventually plunge the Western world into the dark ages.  Rachel Weisz stars as Hypatia, the first notable female mathematician, and a teacher at the city’s most prestigious library.  Though she lives in a male-dominated society, she dismisses her suitors in her search for the truth about the cosmos.

Agora is not specifically an anti-Christian film, as some have labeled it, but it reminds us that Christians do at times kill for their beliefs (which, incidentally, still occurs [editor’s note: this review was written prior to the recent massacre in Norway]).  In fact, none of the groups in the film are shown in a very flattering light, as stupid decisions lead to an endless cycle of revenge, with each side believing they are the righteous.  Other negative aspects of society at the time are also shown – Hypatia, for her part, has slaves that she treats with disregard.  It is a Christian who is shown feeding the hungry in an act of selflessness.  It’s a fascinating time in history, and it doesn’t require the bloody games of the Colosseum to hold one’s interest.

One of Hypatia’s students would go on to become the governor of Alexandria for Imperial Rome.  Though she doesn’t return his affections, his love for her puts them both in the middle of a power struggle with the Christian coalition.  All of the sets and costumes are done quite well, and the city is shown with the same degree of realism as the Roman-era revival film, Gladiator.  Though Hypatia seems a bit frigid, Rachel Weisz does a good job with the role, and the other actors fill out their parts admirably.  I caught it on Netflix (one of the few relatively new movie releases that interested me) and I recommend it.  It’s not a perfect movie but it does a good job of capturing an interesting period in our history.

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  • FLJ

    A thoughtful review. I saw the film when it
    first came out in NYC and loved Weisz’ performance as Hypatia. Amenabar
    distorts some history in service to his art (the Library didn’t end that way
    and Synesius wasn’t a jerk), but that’s what artists do. I don’t go to the
    movies for history. For people who want to know more about the historical
    Hypatia, I highly recommend a very readable biography “Hypatia of
    Alexandria” by Maria Dzielska (Harvard University Press, 1995). I also
    have a series of posts on the historical events and characters in the film at
    my blog ( – not a movie review, just a
    “reel vs. real” discussion.