Amid Celestial Harmony

Agora

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Alejandro Amenabar’s film Agora about the ancient woman astrologer and Neo-Platonist Philosopher is an absorbing tale of religious strife in Alexandria, Egypt in the declining decades of the Roman Empire. Caught between the rise of Christianity and the intolerance of the Christians for the Jews and vice versa, the Roman pagans especially the nobility who are still laying offerings to pagan Gods soon realize the extent to which Christianity has swept the Roman empire by the end of the 4th Century A.D.

Hypatia is more concerned about the alignment of the planets and encourages logical mathematical inquiry, philosophizing over the causes of gravity, the earth’s rotational spin and an heliocentric model of the solar system, placing the sun at the universe’s centre. Her theories on relativity, mathematics and astrology were way ahead of her time and all the knowledge of the ancient world, stored at the gorgeous library of Alexandria is soon sacked by the marauding Christians, Hypatia realizes that she is in a world, which is rapidly changing its social structure in the waning years of the Roman Empire.

Her once proud father Theon, a Roman nobleman, is played with suitable panache and misguided wisdom by Michael Lonsdale, seldom seen in many features any more. Lonsdale become famous to international audiences as the arch villain Hugo Drax in the James Bond film Moonraker. He was later seen in a cameo role as the French diplomat in The Remains of the Day.

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Academy award winner for The Constant Gardener,  Rachel Weisz embraces the complex role of Hypatia and relishes in the range of emotional depth and intellectual strength the character is given, especially in relation to her former slave, Davus a wonderful performance by Max Minghella, son of the late film director, Anthony Minghella, acclaimed for The English Patient and also to Orestes a Roman prefecture played by Oscar Isaac, who is hopelessly in love with her since the student days when Hypatia was  head teacher of philosophy before Alexandria was plagued by religious strife.

Agora is a superb historical epic detailing a little known time between the fall of the Roman Empire and those tumultuous days when religious fervour swept and changed the ancient world, eventually plunging the entire ancient and once sophisticated societies of Egypt, Greece and Italy into the Dark Ages.

The ending of Agora is symptomatic of the transitional times from crumbling Empire to a  new world order and while Hypatia stands firm in her beliefs as a philosopher and astronomer, she was sacrificed as a victim of her rapidly changing city, leaving her discoveries to be lost forever.

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Alejandro Amenebar the director of The Others and the Oscar winning The Sea Inside uses his flare to bring the texture and brutality of the 4th century Alexandria to life especially in contrast to the crumbling world of philosophical endeavour in favour of religious supremacy and intolerance. The sacking of the Library at Alexandria as scrolls burn and all the ancient world’s discoveries vanish is effective and is always a lesson against those who prefer ignorance to critical research. In the case of Hypatia her knowledge was her power and her greatest liability in a world ruled by megalomaniac men blinded by faith and not vision.

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