27 March 2011
What makes someone inspirational ? What drives someone to make the hardest of inconvenient choices ? What pushes sane compassionate human beings to degenerate into fanatic blood hungry animals ?
Agora, directed by Alejandro Amenabar, tries to address all these and more in a period piece set in 4th century A.D. in the great city of Alexandria, raising more questions than answers stamping it's relevance even in 2011.
The City of Alexandria is at the cusp of religious transformation. The Roman empire has fallen and a new religion called Christianity is spreading like wild fire among the oppressed. The Pagans are still holding on to their past glory while the Jews are caught in-between Christians and Pagans. Amidst all these chaos, stands firm the great library of Alexandria. Here,the most beautiful and respected philosopher-teacher,Hypatia, teaches astronomy and math to a diverse group of students. She is constantly trying to solve the mysteries of the cosmos; Is the Earth, center of Universe or is it Sun? Is the Earth round or flat ? Does the Earth revolve around the Sun or vice versa? If it is revolving, how come we don't feel it ?
It is this obsessive passion and thirst for knowledge that makes Hypatia the object of affection to three of her students. Davus, her most intelligent lovestruck slave; Orestes, who expresses his love for his teacher in front of everyone in annual play ,only to get a rude harsh rejection; Synesius,who is thankful to her courage for protecting him,a Christian, among Pagan majority.
The story revolves around these three students and Hypatia and how the events outside the walls of the library change their lives forever in a climate of religious intolerance.
The attention given to details of this period makes you sit up and enjoy the little things like the clapper used during play, the detailed statues, authentic period costumes, the CGI rendition of city streets, ocean, market place, cultural mix and the way camera descends from stars to the open veranda of Hypatia's bed as if the Gods themselves are watching with curiosity the happenings on ground.
Rachel Weisz, radiates and embodies Hypatia. There is a certain luminance in her face that fills up the whole screen and instantly makes you want to sit next to her and listen. Davus, brings his lustful love,mixed with oppressive anger towards the Pagans beautifully to screen. His repressed love for Hypatia along with the religious fanaticism in the streets,makes you think about the things we don't control no matter what the heart wants.
One of the boldest moves in the movie is how they have depicted the dangers of religion over state. It reminds you that there is a separation of Church and State not to protect Religion from the clutches of government but State from fundamental religious leaders and their intolerance. The Pagans kill innocent Christians, the Christians kill Jews, the Jews kill Christians. The director doesn't spare any group. The other bold move is to not let any character behave like holier than thou. The knowledgable philosopher has slaves, the dedicated Christian soldier goes from feeding the poor to killing the innocent simply because they don't believe in Jesus, the Roman law keepers choose the majority mob over peace and allow genocide and plunder for political gain, the Bishop picks selective passages from St.Paul to twist the meaning of verses(very much like fundamental Imams in Mosques). No character is left without their flawed side and no group is spared their ugly darker side. It takes courage and conviction to portray such uncompromising display of our fallibilities. It also makes you wonder how fragile, we as society are, even centuries later when you hear about Darfur, Kosovo and the tribal wars in Africa.
There are flaws in the movie as it almost seems like two parts. One, the times in the library and other, after the students have grown into their adult roles. The pacing could be faster and the constant violent scenes could have been shortened but considering the times, it is probably ncessary to drive home the human insanity.
There is a scene when Orestes asks Hypatia how can she be so obsessed about cosmos when people are killing each other in the streets. As a viewer, you feel he is justified while you also understand the pursuit of things that are greater than one self or your current situation, even if that situation is a choice between life or death. Socrates died drinking a vial of poison as he wouldn't compromise on his beliefs. Bhagat Singh died as he wouldn't compromise on his vision of free India. A strong passionate belief is what makes them inspirational. Having a purpose beyond self, in and of itself, makes every moment worthy of living. Even if that life is curtailed, their idea,ideology and belief lives on.
Agora is an epic drama that shows the conflict between Science and Religion, conflict between Survival and Choice, conflict between Secularism and Religious intolerance, and above all, the struggle between Loyalty and Love!