Agora: A Very Short Review

One of the great things about movies is that they allow you to come as close as we ever likely will to time travel.  And one of the bad things about movies is that they’re never perfect about this; there are always things that make you realize it was made in 1979 or whenever.  (Elizabeth Taylor, I’m looking at you in that Cleopatra getup.)

However, every now and then we get a really good toga epic.  And this year we have Agora, a gorgeous and superbly intelligent film.  How lovely to see an intelligent scientist woman!  And as far as I can tell the creators were nuts for authenticity.  Everything looks right, the clothes, the hair, the way the Roman soldiers hold their shields up against stones flung by rioters.

You won’t find a writer in the world who doesn’t love libraries, and the scene of the sacking and burning of the great Library of Alexandria is hearbreaking.  The heroine, Hypatia, acts for us, scrabbling to gather up scrolls and save them from destruction.  The full horror of losing such a trove of learning hits the viewer like thunder.

The other major theme of this movie is highly topical: the dangers of religious fanaticism.  The movie comes down heavily on the side of tolerance and knowledge, a safe stance but one that cannot be reiterated too often these days.


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About Brenda Clough

Brenda W. Clough spent much of her childhood overseas, courtesy of the U.S. government. Her first fantasy novel, The Crystal Crown, was published by DAW in 1984. She has also written The Dragon of Mishbil (1985), The Realm Beneath (1986), and The Name of the Sun (1988). Her children’s novel, An Impossumble Summer (1992), is set in her own house in Virginia, where she lives in a cottage at the edge of a forest. Her novel How Like a God, available from BVC, was published by Tor Books in 1997, and a sequel, Doors of Death and Life, was published in May 2000. Her latest novels from Book View Cafe include Revise the World (2009) and Speak to Our Desires. Her novel A Most Dangerous Woman is being serialized by Serial Box. Her novel The River Twice is newly available from BVC.


Agora: A Very Short Review — 11 Comments

  1. “And as far as I can tell the creators were nuts for authenticity. Everything looks right, the clothes, the hair, the way the Roman soldiers hold their shields up against stones flung by rioters.”

    Actually the soldiers’ armour was historically inaccurate — by the time of the movie, Roman soldiers were wearing scale and chain mail (lorica squamata and lorica hamata) rather than the 1st century breastplates (lorica segmentata) seen in the movie.

    Here are some SCAdians dressed as late Roman soldiers. And here’s a discussion of late Roman military armor and equipment, with drawings.

  2. I forgot to say, minor quibbles about the historical accuracy of the costumes aside, it was a very good movie. It’s just that I think the set designers did a lot more research than the costume designers.

  3. The plot, however, is historical nonsense.

    Michael Flynn did a historical analysis of the known facts (in nine parts) in Livejournal.

    The first one is here

  4. Well, like I say, there is no such thing as a perfect historical movie! This one is tons better than the dreadful ALEXANDER one with Brad Pitt, for example. Any tiny progress towards better quality should be applauded.

  5. I have not yet seen Agora, though I plan to. Other details aside, the historical Hypatia was in her late fifties or early sixties when she was literally shredded by the mob. By making her young and beautiful, the film may engage the glands of the audience, but it has turned older women once again invisible.

    Brad Pitt was in Troy, not in Alexander (which tells you how easily this type of Hollywood glop blurs times and characters in people’s minds). The former managed to turn gold into lead: a vibrant epic into a thudding bore. The latter, clunky as it was, had some saving graces. As for the general pop culture depiction of Hellenic culture, regardless of era, the less said the better. My take on Alexander and on Hollywood views of my culture and history:

    Iskander, Khan Tengri

    Being Part of Everyone’s Furniture; Or: Appropriate Away!

  6. Oh you’re right, it was Troy. A genuinely terrible movie, which I have mercifully mostly forgotten. Who was it who was in ALEXANDER, or did that one die aborning? By definition, if I can’t remember it, it was unmemorable.

  7. Glaurung, they NEVER get that one right. Romans are happily wearing the segmentata from the times of Hannibal to Alaric. 😀

    But it’s still better than stirrups in a frigging documentary.

  8. In fact, I think I did notice stirrups in AGORA — in one of the scenes when the mounted soldiers are pushing back the crowd. It happens so often, I wonder if it is not a liability thing — like the actors’ union refusing to let the actors ride without. Again, an perennial grievance.