Reviews of Ágora
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I had been anticipating this film for awhile. I knew the story already from a stage play that was influential to me in a number of ways. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the life and legend of Hypatia of Alexandria portrayed in this epic way. This film is worth multiple viewings to me.
Alexandria was a cosmopolitan city near the end of the Roman empire. Agora is Greek for a public meeting place or market place. The word is mentioned once. It is a little mysterious why Agora was chosen for the title. I suspect it may have something to do with the symmetry of the word with the circular “O” in the middle. Also it loosely represents the place where the different religious factions: the pagans with a mix of Greek and Egyptian gods, the growing Christian movement, and the traditional Jewish population, begin to tear apart the fabric of Alexandria because of their differences. Whereas Hypatia’s classroom where she teaches philosophy, mathematics, and astronomy (notice that is not astrology) is a place of brotherhood for all her students from various backgrounds. Hypatia was a Neo-Platonist, which means she believed in ideal forms.
We begin in 391 CE. Hypatia (Weisz) has a position of influence as a teacher and lives a scholarly life with her father Theon (Lonsdale). Weisz is wonderful at portraying Hypatia as human and not some idealized martyr for Atheists. Theon is portrayed as not being friendly to the Christians among his household’s slaves. And Hypatia’s brotherhood ends with the position of slaves below citizens of her social level. Davus (Minghella) is Hypatia’s slave. He pays attention to the lessons as much as the official students and shows he is intelligent. Hypatia builds him up for his mind one moment then seemingly without realizing insults him the next. Davus also has a forbidden physical attraction to his mistress. Minghella’s character is hard to pin point. Among Hypatia’s students are Synesius (Evans), a Christian, and Orestes (Isaac), a secular young man who is a defender of the Pagans and sees the authority of the Roman government. Orestes also publicly declares his love for his teacher. Evans doesn’t get as much screen time to shine, but Isaac is stellar in his sympathetic role. The Pagans and the Christians keep seeking revenge on each other for insults to their deities. Davus meets Ammonius (Barhom), a Christian leader on the streets of Alexandria, and begins to see the power he could have as part of this relatively new group. Many die on both sides and the Pagans end up barricading themselves around Theon’s house and the great library. The Pagans are allowed time to escape with their lives and Hypatia tries to save as much knowledge as possible in the form of library scrolls, because it is decreed that the Christians shall be allowed to ransack the library. A tragic historical event of great loss that Alejandro Amenabar shows us turned the world upside down.
The movie then jumps several years ahead. Text on the screen explains that many Pagans have converted to Christianity in order to keep their lives in the interim. Orestes is now the prefect or local representative for the Roman emperor. He has been baptized since the empire’s official religion is Christianity. Synesius has become bishop of Cyrene. Both Orestes and Synesius keep in touch with Hypatia, Orestes more in person. I find it interesting from a book I read by Maria Dzielska that the main historical documents that still survive that give us a look into this time and Hypatia’s life are letters written by Synesius to various people including Hypatia. Hypatia has been continuing experiments to understand the relationship between the Sun and Earth and other wonders, or stars. She is always questioning! A priest named Cyril becomes the new bishop of Alexandria. Davus and Ammonius are now members of the Parabolani, who serve the bishop when some muscle is needed. Davus never turns his mind off and is very conflicted. The Christians led by Cyril turn their attention against the Jews next. When Orestes and the council won’t do what Cyril wishes in regards to making the Jews leave the city, Cyril goes to the source and begins to make charges against Hypatia.
The movie reminded me of Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot as the camera often pulled away from the fighting and action in the ancient city of Alexandria, which seemed so BIG in human affairs of the time, to show us how SMALL we are on the global scale and in the grand expanse of space. Well, the grand expanse of space and Earth’s real place in it are Hypatia’s concern. Rather than relying on the unchanging word of law in the Bible, she encourages us to search for the truth.
- Currently 5.0/5 Stars.
Apakah agama akan selalu bersinggungan dengan ilmu pengetahuan? Atau kedua sisi tersebut harus benar-benar dipisahkan antara satu sama lain? Tema tersebut mungkin akan membutuhkan waktu yang lama untuk mendiskusikannya. Sutradara asal Spanyol, Alejandro Amenábar (The Others, 2001) mencoba memaparkan sedikit mengenai hal ini berdasarkan kisah historis mengenai Hypatia, seorang filsuf wanita dari era Mesir kuno, dalam film terbarunya, Agora.
Terlahir dari keluarga dengan tingkat pendidikan dan pengetahuan yang berada, Hypatia (Rachel Weisz), menjadi telah terbiasa menerima berbagai pengetahuan baru di setiap hari kehidupannya, khususnya dari sang ayah, Theon (Michael Lonsdale). Bersama ayahnya, Hypatia mengajarkan pengetahuan kepada para pemuda di kota Agora di sebuah institusi yang dilengkapi perpustakaan yang berisi banyak kumpulang pengetahuan dari para filsuf Yunani.
Hypatia sendiri merupakan seorang profesor yang terkenal dengan ilmu filosofinya dan sangat tertarik dengan dunia astronomi. Bersama dengan rekan-rekannya, seringkali Hypatia melakukan pembahasan mengenai teori apakah Bumi menjadi pusat dari alam semesta, ataukah Bumi adalah bagian dari alam semesta yang ikut mengelilingi matahari. Karena dedikasinya di bidang ilmu pengetahuan dan penelitiannya mengenai astronomi tersebutlah, Hypatia seringkali menolak lamaran pria yang datang padanya.
Hypatia sendiri hidup di saat era kepercayaan Pagan mulai mengalami pengunduran setelah datangnya agama Kristen, termasuk di Agora. Dua pemeluk kepercayaan ini seringkali mengalami bentrok karena melakukan pembelaan atas kepercayaannya masing-masing. Pada suatu ketika, para Pagan memutuskan untuk menyerang umat Kristen yang saat itu sedang berkumpul dan mengolok-olok beberapa patung dewa yang disembah umat Pagan. Penyerangan itu ternyata berbalik arah. Kaum Pagan tidak menyadari bahwa umat Kristen di Agora sudah sedemikian banyak. Kaum Pagan akhirnya tersingkir. Hypatia dan para penghuni perpustakaan pun berusaha menyelamatkan berbagai tulisan kuno karena kaum Kristen telah menjadikan perpustakaan tersebut tujuan serangan mereka, karena dianggap sebagai pusat ibadah kaum Pagan.
Beberapa tahun setelahnya, kaum Pagan benar-benar menjadi minoritas. Bahkan, banyak diantara mereka yang telah merubah kepercayaannya menjadi Kristen. Hypatia, yang hanya peduli akan ilmu pengetahuan, tidak memperdulikan akan hal tersebut. Setiap harinya, Hypatia hanya berfokus untuk menemukan berbagai ilmu baru dan mengajarkannya. Hypatia sendiri, semenjak ditinggal mati oleh sang ayah, kini berfokus pada ilmu astronomi, dengan hasrat untuk menyibak misteri mengenai hubungan Bumi, matahari dan perputaran antara keduanya.
Sikap Hypatia yang memilih untuk bertahan pada kepercayaan Pagan-nya sendiri membuat beberapa pemuka Kristen menjadi sedikit terganggu. Lewat Cyril (Sammy Samir), seorang pendeta pimpinan kaum Kristen di Agora, kaum Kristen diwajibkan untuk menyingkirkan kaum Pagan yang tersisa agar tidak mempengaruhi pemikiran-pemikiran umat Kristen yang ada. Secara spesifik, Cyril bahkan menuding apa yang sedang dikerjakan oleh Hypatia adalah sebuah bentuk ilmu sihir. Ini membuat gejolak tersendiri bagi Orestes (Oscar Isaac), seorang gubernur yang dahulu beragama Pagan dan menuntuk ilmu kepada Hypatia, serta Davus (Max Minghella), mantan budak keluarga Hypatia, yang keduanya telah semenjak lama memendam rasa suka terhadap Hypatia.
Kalau mau dilihat secara mendasar, Amenábar sebenarnya ingin memaparkan mengenai jalan hidup seorang Hypatia dalam Agora. Namun, apa yang dilakukan Amenábar sepertinya sedikit lebih jauh dari fokus utama yang ingin dihadirkannya.
Sebagai latar belakang cerita, yang nantinya berhubungan dengan bagaimana nasib Hypatia di akhir cerita, Amenábar menggambarkan mengenai sekelompok penganut kepercayaan yang sepertinya terus menerus melakukan berbagai tindakan kekerasan kepada mereka yang tidak menuruti keinginan kaum tersebut. Sebenarnya hal ini tidak akan menjadi permasalahan besar jika Amenábar mampu menyeimbangkan kedua sisi cerita ini. Namun, di sepanjang Agora, Amenábar lebih sering terlihat memanjangkan kisah latar cerita daripada kehidupan Hypatia sendiri. Hasilnya, hubungan emosional antara penonton dengan karakter Hypatia menjadi kurang dapat terjalin dengan baik.
Dari segi filmis, Amenábar berhasil memberikan sebuah gambaran yang sangat mengagumkan mengenai Agora. Dipenuhi oleh berbagai sinematografi yang indah untuk menggambarkan Agora, Amenábar juga berhasil menyusun secara detil mengenai berbagai hal yang dapat menggambarkan bagaimana keadaan kota Agora di saat itu.
Dari departemen akting, Rachel Weisz tentu saja yang menjadi perhatian utama dari film ini. Sebagai pemeran karakter utama, sekaligus satu-satunya tokoh wanita yang hadir di sepanjang jalan cerita, Weisz tampil sesuai sebagai Hypatia yang memiliki pemikiran yang maju dan pintar dibandingkan dengan orang-orang yang ada di sekitarnya. Weisz tidak hanya mampu memberikan gambaran mengenai seorang Hypatia yang pintar, ia juga memberikan keanggunan tersendiri pada karakter tersebut yang membuat Hypatia benar-benar menjadi fokus perhatian setiap ia hadir dalam adegannya.
Sebagai sebuah drama bertema sejarah, Agora hadir dengan tampilan visual yang sangat memuaskan. Alejandro Amenábar berhasil memberikan setiap detil mengenai bagaimana keadaan Agora dengan sangat baik. Sayangnya, naskah cerita ini sepertinya terlalu terfokus pada penceritaan mengenai konflik agama yang terjadi di saat itu, daripada berfokus pada kisah pribadi yang dialami sang karakter utama. Tidak begitu fatal, namun penonton seperti kehilangan sedikit kehilangan hubungan emosional dengan jalan cerita yang ada. Durasi yang panjang dan tema yang tidak umum mungkin akan menghalangi sebagian orang untuk menikmati film ini. Namun, secara keseluruhan, Agora bukanlah sebuah pencapaian yang mengecewakan.
Rating: 3.5 / 5
- Currently 4.0/5 Stars.
Undeniably great to look at, Agora includes some marvellous depictions of ancient Alexandria, but the execution ultimately left me cold and extremely bored. Persuaded to go and see it by Peter Bradshaw’s four star review in The Guardian, I should have gone to see Dogtooth instead….
For me the main problem was the dialogue. With lines like “Why can you never find a slave when you need one?” and the assembled masses looking oddly beardy, one can’t but help have Monty Python or indeed Carry on Caesar in the back of your mind. The effect isn’t helped by the very nice English accents everyone sports, making the ancient world sound like an upper-middle class Hampstead dinner party, and calling to mind that genre of British films from Four Weddings and a Funeral onwards. One can understand why The Passion of the Christ was made in Aramaic.
Even the science felt like it was lowered in by a crane. We’d barely got going before we were hearing about epicycles (surely a very technical concept?) and the Ptolemaic system, then presented with Aristarchus’ heliocentric model in almost comic terms and a consideration of it in even more clunky dialogue.
Yes, it’s a spectacle, and it’s not subtle, but it has aspirations to be significant in some way. The sets are monumental, but so is the awfulness of this very crass production.
- Currently 1.0/5 Stars.
I will not deny the fact that Alejandro Amenábar is one of my favorite directors at the moment. With the eerily creepy The Others and the emotionally wrought Mar adentro, how could he not be? And why have I not seen Abre los ojos yet? Disgraceful I know. Well, you can imagine my immense excitement when finding out his new 4th century Egyptian epic Agora would be playing as a gala presentation in Toronto for TIFF. The trailer made it seem very unlike his past movies, looking to be on a much larger scale in comparison. But it was Amenábar, so I had complete faith that he could pull it off, probably infusing it with the detail and heart the previous movies had in abundance. He spoke before the film that he wanted to make a work that tackled the subject of intolerance, to fight “against anyone who uses violence to prove his ideas”. Using three weeks of preparation before filming began, with minimal computer effects—he wanted a “going back in time” realism, so extras were hired and sets were built—he definitely did the job while also shedding light on a period of history that hasn’t really been done in Hollywood.
Debuting at Cannes, this screening was the North American premiere. The theatre was full of festival attendees and rows of Blackberry, Bell, and AMC sponsorship employees. But once the lights dimmed and the movie began, all that went away and Amenábar encompassed us in the city of Alexandria. A woman, the daughter of the head of the glorious library holding mankind’s history, Hypatia, played nicely by Rachel Weisz, is the voice and teacher for a new generation of Egyptians. It is a mixed group of those still believing in the Gods, (pagans), and the new Christian contingent, being persecuted while also persecuting as well. Hypatia looks past all that, refusing to align herself with a religion, instead utilizing science itself as her philosophy’s backbone. Teaching and comprehending the world as heliocentric, attempting to grasp at the idea of gravity many, many years before its discovery to allow for a geocentric model, it all derails once bigotry prevails. The agora becomes a scene of Christians throwing fruit at the statues of the Gods, an offense that the pagans must meet with retribution. It all turns into a fight that exposes the infinite number of Christians living in the city. All those who hid their beliefs expose themselves for the battle, eventually driving the pagans back into the library to await word from the prefect on what’s to be done for a truce.
The fight is epic in scope and execution—a mass of humanity fighting friends in the streets. Amenábar has no fear in showing the brutality and intimacy of the war. We see overhead shots of people running around like ants, but also close-up views of the men engaging with each other, taking it as personally as possible. When a man’s slave must reconcile his duty to his master and that to his God, the pain and conflict is etched on his face. Screaming, “I’m a Christian!” and then going over to beat the man he served, epitomizes the event completely. You could argue that the fighting scenes overshadow the rest in effectiveness and you would be right. The scenes of government, school, and scientific research do become second fiddle to the hostility brewing underneath the surface, as they are somewhat generic and not too original as far as historical biographies go. They are a necessity, though, to give the audience a jumping off point as to why both factions feel the need to disagree and prove their superiority. Just wait for the second half—after a clumsy transitional time jump—where most pagans have become Christians themselves in order to survive in the new rebuilt Alexandria. It now becomes a war between them and the Jews, fighting for equality in a government ruled by one of Hypatia’s former students, Oscar Isaac’s Orestes, a newly made Christian, yet educated by a woman … blasphemy indeed.
All the fighting does, however, is cause death and destruction, setting mankind back centuries in progress and education. We can’t know for sure if Hypatia was on the verge of such scientific theories that far back, but the point definitely comes across. Amenábar made a statement before the screening that if the Alexandria library had not been destroyed, we might have landed on Mars already. The interesting thought of those words is that they might not be as bold as you’d initially think. So much knowledge was lost in this bickering feud without reason besides needing some form of victory in a pissing contest. It is something to consider especially when you look at history after that point and the countless deaths of visionaries and potentially brilliant minds due to zealotry, genocide, and just plain blind aggression or inferiority complexes. I’m sure the fact that the film shows three religions at war, none of which are Muslim, isn’t lost on the filmmakers and serves as some sort of comment towards political tensions today, but you have to read into the tale to get to that point; I think it works as a historical epic alone without the need of social commentary of the present.
But Agora isn’t only about the fighting in a general sense, it really hones in on some of the players, especially the original classmates in Hypatia’s lessons. You have Orestes, a reformed Christian to advance his political stature; Synesius, (played by Rupert Evans), a young man who admitted his religion but kept allegiance to his teacher and class that would later become a bishop; and Davus, an ex-slave of Hypatia’s family that slowly sees his world falling apart, deciding to leave the woman he has fallen for—an impossible love by being her slave, but also because she herself had just one love, her work—to join a military faction of the Christians, inflicting order and violence on those against them. All the acting is very good, but only Max Minghella’s Davus stands out to warrant specific mention. He has the largest evolution of the bunch and wears his emotions openly on his sleeve. The result of his history with Weisz’s character leads to an admittedly obvious climax, but those shortcomings in the human aspect of the story shouldn’t detract from the success of the historical moments. As a piece of history and as entertaining wartime cinema, I think Agora earns the right to be seen.
- Currently 4.0/5 Stars.