Jared McMillan // Features Editor
Albert Einstein once said, “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” I can only assume that this means the two are mutually exclusive, however the word lame has many interpretations and there are many branches of science. At any rate, general public opinion, as stated by several news outlets, is that religion and science are constantly at odds with one another. It’s madness to hold both in regard, MADNESS I SAY! For example, those who are viewed as religious, must adhere to the stereotypes of their faith (i.e. all Muslims hate women, or all Christians hate everything). Because of this common perception being constantly thrusted into our everyday train of thought, the struggle for individuality is always there. Everything needs definition. All of this is preface to say that AGORA is a movie that tries to understand this conflict, religious thought over reason, but cannot come to its own conclusion.
Set in Alexandria, the movie focuses on three lives: Hypatia (Rachel Weisz), a philosopher and atheist; Davus (Max Minghella), her slave-turned-Christian warrior; and Orestes (Oscar Isaac, he’s everywhere!), the aristocratic student-turned-Prefect. The plot starts by establishing how these characters revolve around one another, with both Orestes and Davus having affection for Hypatia. Meanwhile, what’s been considered thus far as heavy debate between the Pagans and Christians, erupts into violence. The Pagans start the war, but underestimate the opposition’s numbers. They are pushed out, with Davus choosing his burgeoning faith over serving as Hypatia’s slave. The film then clumsily moves forward “years later”, stating in a title sequence the consequence of the Roman Empire breaking up, and that the Christians are now developing animosity towards the Jews. While Orestes tries to smooth things over as Prefect, Davus is trying to come to grips with his free thinking and his faith, while Hypatia is coming to grips with Aristarchus’ heliocentric model of the solar system.
Confused yet? Good, because so was this movie. The visual aspects of the movie are what stand out. It has fantastic art direction by Frank Walsh and team, as well as exceptional cinematography by Xavi Gimenez. Directed by Alejandro Amenábar, he keeps everything in tune, more impressive as you watch several mob scenes. There’s one overhead sequence of wide shots, speeding up the time to make it look like a bunch of ants in a colony. It’s easy to get lost in the beauty of AGORA. Also, the three main characters give good performances, especially Max Minghella. They use a lot of eye movement to convey the constant thinking as the prose fails to do their characters justice. The dialogue isn’t that bad, but you can easily see where they could’ve written better. For example, as the library is about to be stormed, they decide to save the “books” when they are clearly scrolls.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the inconsistencies. A lot of the acting that surround the three main characters are off-key, and it takes the heft of certain scenes away. Also, Hypatia is made to be a free-thinker, and feministic in her values, all of which are good things to convey. However, she’s not that exceptional of a free-thinker as she is bound by the laws of society. While Davus is her slave, she constantly makes statements about slaves are beneath them; a juxtaposition when following the phrase “There are more things that unite us than divide us, we are brothers.” Its main flaw though is that it has too many conflicts to keep up with, thereby creating a conflict for the viewer. Are we supposed to see religion as weakness? Is a certain religion more detrimental to the other, or is all religion detrimental to reason?
I can say for certain that the subtext cannot be ignored. We are living in a world right now where free thought is welcome as long as it gets in line with someone else’s thinking. Society constantly projects intolerance while looking for tolerance. People are going to think differently from one another, and begetting violence as a solution for disagreement will hinder people from seeing the big picture in that we all want answers. While AGORA is beautiful to watch, it is commendable at best for trying to go for this grand statement while ultimately failing. Plot without direction is lame and direction without plot is blind.
AGORA is on Netflix Instant, as well as other VOD services.