Historical, but not quite epic

Although epic in its ambition, Agora is ultimately a disappointing experience due to a scattered and disconnected plot and a series of disorganized narratives. Although visually rich and full of beautifully designed sets, the film still suffers from a lack of a clear direction.

Agora is written and directed by Spanish director Alejendro Amenabar (Vanilla Sky, The Others) and takes place within the transitional period between Paganism and Christianity in the Roman empire. The story loosely revolves around two main figures: the philosopher Hypatia (Rachel Weiz) and her slave Davus (Max Minghella). Rome is on the verge of civil war as the newly legalized Christians aren’t exactly coexisting peacefully with their fellow Pagan citizens. The Christians insult the Pagan gods and the Pagans then retaliate by attacking an unarmed crowd of Christians.

What follows is the story of the struggle for religious control of the city of Alexandria, as the Christians become a threat to the actual government of the city. The problem with this plot is that there’s a lot going on but very little indication of why some story elements are present. Each subplot — be it the story of the prefect trying to balance his loyalty to Hypatia with his ability to effectively rule or Hypatia’s search for a theory of the cosmos — is too shallow to pull us in or make us invested in the individual plights. Too little time is spent on each element so they blend together in an awkward mess. Although the plot has some relation to modern themes of religious turmoil, it is constantly being interrupted by a surprisingly dull love story between Hypatia, the servant Davus and the city’s prefect. The plot is overly ambitious and ultimately ends up falling flat.

Despite the messy plot, the film is beautiful. The ancient city of Alexandria comes to life as buildings are lively and colourful and the streets are full of people amidst the hustle and bustle of their daily lives. Amenabar is very good at framing shots in interesting ways, using a combination of long shots and bird eye views that give the viewer a good grasp on the situation during the more chaotic scenes. However, dramatic zoom shots that pull back until the earth is in full view are a little confusing and the score is also mediocre. All in all, there is nothing really outstanding or unique in terms of directorial and productional prowess to save the film from its convoluted plot.

If you’re a history buff then you might find this film an interesting look at an often forgotten part of European and indeed world history. However, if you’re looking for something more like Gladiator, you’ll be bored quickly as action is sparse and the dialogue is wooden and mechanical. An interesting attempt to say the least, but unfortunately an awkwardly written script and a poorly constructed story doom the film to being a lackluster and unsatisfying movie.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.