WordPress is trying to encourage people to blog more by challenging them to post every day or every week in 2011. I could be cynical and say it’s just to generate more traffic and business for WordPress as Twitter and Tumblr continue to lure people away, but it’s a harmless and fun idea, and Lord knows I need to step away from the cynicism fountain for a while, so I’m going to join in. Sort of. I won’t “officially” sign up, but I am going to make the effort to post here at least once a week in 2011.
The eternal problem with resolving to post more frequently, however, is coming up with things to talk about. I have friends on LiveJournal who post every day, using their LJs as an electronic diary, but that’s not my style. For this first post of 2011 I considered sharing the latest installment in the saga of trying to get my son licensed to drive, but I need to resist the temptation to rant and try to be more upbeat and optimistic, for my health if nothing else. I would post something related to medieval history – such as the follow-up to my earlier post about Bertha of Kent – or academia, before I get dropped from Cliopatria’s blogroll – but I don’t have anything prepared (story of my life). So for this week’s post I’ll discuss a movie I watched recently.
Agora was a Christmas gift (DVD) from my son. It’s about Hypatia of Alexandria, a philosopher and astronomer from the 4th-5th centuries CE who has been largely lost to history. I remember hearing of her while studying patristics as an undergraduate, particularly in relation to her horrific death at the hands of a Christian mob, though Hypatia’s own work and writings were not studied. I vividly recall studying Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria at the time of Hypatia’s death (and a significant character in the film); had I known the word “whackjob” back then I would undoubtedly have applied it to him, along with a variety of other, stronger epithets that I won’t print here.
Agora is a Spanish production, though filmed in English with several English actors in key roles, including Rachel Weisz as Hypatia. Weisz is one of those wonderful (in my opinion, at least) actresses who show up in the oddest places, and can almost always raise my opinion of a film by their mere presence. I thought she was especially good in Agora – low-key, understated performance, but not phoning it in from her trailer.
My only major complaint was with the characterization of Orestes, who at the outset of the film is a student of Hypatia’s and later becomes prefect of Alexandria. Unless I missed something (entirely possible, as I’ve only seen the film once, and the title cards were nearly impossible to read), there’s no backstory or explanation given to connect the Orests from the first half with the same character in the 2nd half. His adoption of Christianity is presented as a throwaway line that jars with his depiction earlier in the film verbally sparring with Synesius, another of Hypatia’s students and a Christian, and again as we see his conversion is somewhat half-hearted. I would have liked to see his character given more time to develop, since his conversion was crucial to the events that unfolded in the latter half of the film.
Though I thought Orestes’ characterization needed work, the depiction of Alexandria in the late fourth century was very well done. The early scene in the marketplace where Davus witnesses the competing preachers was especially good at capturing the whole “marketplace of ideas” of cities like Alexandria before Christianity completely took over culture and society in the Roman Empire. The severing of ties between the Jewish and Christian communities, encouraged by Cyril, was also effective in capturing the mood of that era. While the story of Hypatia, and Alexandria, has no doubt been dramatized for cinematic effect, overall I thought Agora was an excellent film.