Agora

(Part I. Part II in progress…)

Agora won several Goya Awards for production (set, costume, cinematography, special effects, etc) and its screenplay. The film has received mixed reviews in the United States. Roger Ebert wrote in the Sun-Times,

This is a movie about ideas, a drama based on the ancient war between science and superstition. At its center is a woman who in the fourth century A.D. was a scientist, mathematician, philosopher, astronomer and teacher, respected in Egypt, although women were not expected to be any of those things.

while V.A. Musetto complained in the NY Post,

The story revolves around Hypatia (Rachel Weisz), a real-life philosopher whose proclamations about the sun being the center of the universe ran counter to religious beliefs of the time.

There are a few exciting battle sequences and the sets are lavish, but mostly the film meanders aimlessly for more than two hours.

Then Patrick Goldstein interviewed the director for the Los Angeles Times during Cannes,

At several points during the film, he takes us swooping up and away from Alexandria, allowing the audience to see the world from high above, as if watching from the cockpit of a satellite orbiting the Earth. I asked him why he chose that perspective. “For me, this wasn’t just the story of a woman, but the story of a city — and a civilization, and a planet — so I wanted to find a way visually to capture that. When you see things from a distance, you can see how relative things are. The ideas that so inflame people up close, that feel so scary and menacing, they look very different when you see them from a different perspective.”

The words “center,” “revolve,” “meander aimlessly,” “perspective,” “relative,” as well as other astronomical vocabulary pepper the reviews with various denigrating puns or praises, depending on the critic’s general assumptions concerning film aesthetics. I find it amusing that the reviewers – much like the besieged students in my favorite scene – come close to discovering a correct interpretation of the film’s message, but ultimately fall back on preconceived, fallacious notions.

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