Agora: The Fall of the Pagans and the Origins of Medieval Christianity

There is brief nudity, fast forward those clips.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Agora is a 2009 English-language historical drama film (albeit a production of Spain) directed by Alejandro Amenábar and written by Amenábar and Mateo Gil. The biopic stars Rachel Weisz as Hypatia, a female mathematician, philosopher and astronomer in late 4th century Roman Egypt, who investigates the flaws of the geocentric Ptolemaic system and the heliocentric model that challenges it. Surrounded by religious turmoil and social unrest, Hypatia struggles to save the knowledge of classical antiquity from destruction. Max Minghella co-stars as Davus, Hypatia’s father’s slave, and Oscar Isaac as Hypatia’s student, and later prefect of Alexandria, Orestes.

The story uses historical fiction to highlight the relationship between religion and science amidst the decline of Greco-Roman polytheism and the Christianization of the Roman empire. The title of the film takes its name from the agora, a gathering place in ancient Greece, similar to the Roman forum. The film was produced by Fernando Bovaira and shot on the island of Malta from March to June 2008. Justin Pollard, co-author of The Rise and Fall of Alexandria (2007), was the historical advisor for the film.

Agora was screened out of competition at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival in May, and opened in Spain on October 9, 2009 becoming the highest grossing film of the year for that country. Although the film had difficulty finding distribution, it was released country by country throughout late 2009 and early 2010. The film received a 53% overall approval rating from Rotten Tomatoes, but has been criticized by some reviewers for its historical inaccuracies and use of artistic license. Agora received seven Goya Awards in Spain, including Best Original Screenplay, and it was awarded the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Feature Film Prize at the Hamptons International Film Festival.

Contents

Plot

In 391 AD, Alexandria, is part of the Roman Empire, and Greek philosopher Hypatia (Rachel Weisz), is a teacher at the Platonic school, where future leaders are educated. Hypatia is the daughter of Theon (Michael Lonsdale), the director of the Musaeum of Alexandria. Hypatia, her father’s slave, Davus (Max Minghella), and two of her pupils, Orestes (Oscar Isaac) and Synesius (Rupert Evans), are immersed in the changing political and social landscape. She rejects Orestes’s love, because she prefers to devote herself to science. Davus assists Hypatia in her classes and is interested in science, and is also secretly in love with her.

Meanwhile, social unrest begins challenging the Roman rule of the city as pagans and Christians come into conflict. When the Christians start defiling the statues of the pagan gods, the pagans, including Orestes and Hypatia’s father, ambush the Christians to quash their rising influence. However, in the ensuing battle, the pagans unexpectedly find themselves outnumbered by a large Christian mob. Hypatia’s father is gravely injured and Hypatia and the pagans take refuge in the Library of the Serapeum. The Christian siege of the library ends when an envoy of the Roman Emperor declares that the pagans are pardoned, however the Christians shall be allowed to enter the library and do with it what they please. Hypatia and the pagans flee, trying to save the most important scrolls, before the Christians overtake the library and destroy its contents. Davus, chooses to join the Christian forces. He later returns with a gladius and starts sexually assaulting her, but quickly offers his sword to her. However, she removes his slave collar and tells him he is free.

Several years later, Orestes, now converted to Christianity, is prefect of Alexandria. Hypatia continues to investigate the motions of the Sun, the Moon, the five known “wanderers” (planets) and the stars. Some Christians ridicule the thinking that the Earth is a sphere, by arguing that people far from the top would fall off the Earth. When they ask Davus his opinion he avoids conflict by saying that only God knows these things.

Hypatia also investigates the heliocentric model of the solar system proposed by Aristarchus of Samos; by having an object dropped from the mast of a moving ship she demonstrates to Orestes that a possible motion of the Earth would not affect the motion, relative to Earth, of a falling object on Earth. However, due to religious objections against heliocentrism, the Christians have now forbidden Hypatia to teach at the school. The Christians and the Jews come into conflict, committing violent acts against each other.

The leader of the Christians, Cyril (Sami Samir), views Hypatia as having too much influence over Orestes and stages a public ceremony intended to force Orestes to subjugate her. Hypatia’s former pupil, Synesius, now the Bishop of Cyrene, comes to her rescue as a religious authority counterweight, but says he cannot help her unless she accepts Christianity; she refuses. Hypatia makes a personal discovery, theorizing that the Earth orbits around the Sun in an elliptic, not circular, orbit with the Sun at one of the foci. Cyril convinces a mob of Christians that Hypatia is a witch and they vow to kill her. Davus tries to run ahead to warn Hypatia, but she is captured by the mob. They strip Hypatia naked and are about to skin her alive until Davus persuades the mob otherwise, and they decide to stone her instead. When everyone goes outside to collect stones, Davus, secretly suffocates her and tells the mob that she fainted. Davus leaves as they begin to stone her.

Development

It’s a movie that challenges the audience in terms of reasoning and trying to get into the story. I kept saying the movie is about astronomy and I wanted to express concepts that we study in school—science, mathematics—that don’t show how fascinating the topic is [the way the subjects are taught in modern education]. I wanted to translate [man’s] fascination with the pursuit of knowledge. I wanted to show astronomy and those who study it in the most appealing way. Those are the real heroes of the movie.

Alejandro Amenábar[8]

After Amenábar completed The Sea Inside (2004), he took a break and traveled to the island of Malta, where he used his free time to explore the night sky. Seeing the Milky Way galaxy, Amenábar began to discuss astronomy with his friends, speculating about extraterrestrial life on other planets. He started to research astronomy and came across Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, by American astronomer Carl Sagan.[9] Amenábar also studied historical figures such as Ptolemy, Copernicus, Johannes Kepler and Galileo,[10] but found himself most interested in the story of Hypatia, a 4th century Greek astronomer whose history, he felt, was still relevant in the 21st century: “We realized that this particular time in the world had a lot of connections with our contemporary reality. Then the project became really, really intriguing, because we realized that we could make a movie about the past while actually making a movie about the present.”[11]

To prepare for the task of recreating the ancient city of Alexandria without relying on computer generated imagery, Amenábar reviewed older sword-and-sandal films such as The Ten Commandments (1956), Ben-Hur (1959), and Pharaoh (1966).[9] A year before the start of pre-production, designer Guy Hendrix Dyas spent three weeks with Amenábar in Madrid to do some preliminary work on the set designs and the recreation of the ancient city of Alexandria so that previs animations could be generated.

The film was produced by Fernando Bovaira, with Telecinco Cinema as the primary producer along with Mod Producciones, Himenoptero, and Sogecable as co-producers.[12]

Filming

Principal photography began on March 17, 2008, on the island of Malta, and was scheduled to last 15 weeks.[13] Production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas used large sets on location instead of computer generated imagery at Amenábar’s direction.[14] The construction of the set employed almost 400 people, and was the largest ever designed on the island. Actor Charles Thake (Hesiquius) suffered minor facial injuries on the set when he collided with extras running during a scene.[15] Filming ended in June.[8]

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  1. Highlighting the purpose of the Director

    After Amenábar completed The Sea Inside (2004), he took a break and traveled to the island of Malta, where he used his free time to explore the night sky. Seeing the Milky Way galaxy, Amenábar began to discuss astronomy with his friends, speculating about extraterrestrial life on other planets. He started to research astronomy and came across Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, by American astronomer Carl Sagan. Amenábar also studied historical figures such as Ptolemy, Copernicus, Johannes Kepler and Galileo, but found himself most interested in the story of Hypatia, a 4th century Greek astronomer whose history, he felt, was still relevant in the 21st century: “We realized that this particular time in the world had a lot of connections with our contemporary reality. Then the project became really, really intriguing, because we realized that we could make a movie about the past while actually making a movie about the present.”

    This is from the Wikipedia page about the film.

  2. “All [of] history is … one long story to this effect, men have struggled for power over their fellow men in order that they might win the joys of earth at the expense of others, and might shift the burden of life from their own shoulders on [to] those of others.”

    William Graham Summer

  3. If anyone carefully studies early history of Christianity, one would realize that till fourth century Unitarians outnumbered the Trinitarians.

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