Re:View – ‘Agora’
The cinema of ideas seems doomed to fail these days. I’m not entirely surprised, then, that this astonishing big-budget film about the death of intelligence and the birth of religious extremism flopped at the box office.
It tells the story of Hypatia of Alexandria, and recounts one of the greatest acts of vandalism in history, the destruction of the great library at Alexandria by Christians. It goes against the current unthinking growth of extremism, and acts as a dire warning about the loss we face.
Rachel Weisz is Hypatia, mathematician, astronomer, philosopher and atheist who lived in the ascension of Christianity, the death of the Roman Empire and the start of the Dark Ages, when all learning was destroyed by religion and the intellectual development of humankind was set back centuries.
Caught between the attentions of her former slave and her pupil, trying to understand the order of the heavens, she is blind to the chaos around her into which the world is slipping. Alexandro Amenabar creates the all-too-believable rise of ignorance, framing his shots so that they seem like frescoes and paintings, then setting his locations against the unknowable vastness of the universe.
This s a film about the failure of society to question what it believes, framed in the style of ‘Ben Hur’, that bombastic epic which did the opposite. Intelligent, gripping filmmaking, it deserved Oscars – and a better fate than the snide reviews of critics who couldn’t handle a modern-day Roman epic, and the blinkered philistinism of the Far Right.
‘Agora’ is bravura, heartbreaking stuff. A dark film for dark times, indeed.