Ed Koch Movie Reviews: “Agora” BY Edward I. Koch

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Koch_EdwardIrving-standing Movie Review:  “Agora” (-)

August 9, 2010

A.O. Scott’s New York Times review of this film last May was a treat to read.  He provides a history lesson on the moment in time when Rome dominated Egypt and, in particular, the city of Alexandria.  If you have access to the Internet, do retrieve his review.

Regrettably, I did not have the same sentiments about the film as Scott.  However, I loved the sets of Alexandria.  The only picture that rivals the probable accuracy of those stunning sets of Alexandria, which looks like ancient Rome on which it was apparently modeled, is “I, Claudius.”  That BBC mini-series magnificently set forth the extraordinary character of Claudius and the culture and physicality of Rome, including its architecture.       

EDKOCHMOVIEREVIEWS_Agora The central figure in “Agora” is Hypatia (Rachel Weisz), a noble woman who was both a teacher and director of the world-renowned Library at Alexandria.  Weisz, who does a glorious job defining Hypatia, has three young men in her class who adore her:  a slave named Davus (Max Minghella), Synesius (Rubert Evans), and Orestes (Oscar Isaac) who nearly rapes her.

The story is punctuated by the savagery of the different populations.  The Roman soldiers who are described as pagans keep the Christians under control.  When the Christians are recognized by Rome and placed in control, they engage in savagery against their former oppressors.  The Jews become the victims of the Christians.

If I hadn’t read Scott’s review, I would not have grasped much of the film, except for the expulsion of the Jews which is clearly depicted.  The  review was like the pony that students in my high school used to read on Ceasar’s conquest of Gaul (France).  It began, “All Gaul Is Divided Into Three Parts.”            But audiences don’t have a pony at the cinema, and I believe many will not grasp the film’s reaches to the extent that Scott did.  I was often lost.  So, regrettably, I suggest that you avoid this movie and the frustration that I suffered while watching it.  You see, I read Scott’s review after I saw the movie.           Henry Stern said:  “I had never seen a movie set in 400 C.E.  (Christian era, for those sensitive about Anno Domini).  I wondered what Alexandria, an Egyptian port city named in 331 B.C.E. for the man who conquered it, may have looked like in those early days.  It did have a magnificent library, which the locals burned down, destroying historic treasures.

The movie is the story of Hypatia, a brilliant and attractive woman of Greek ancestry.  Who knows how much of the plot is true, but Hypatia came to grief in the end, which is about as much of a surprise as the fact that the Titanic sank.

I was glad I saw Agora, which was an invitation to learning more about the era.  The Christians, who displaced the pagans and expelled the Jews, were in turn subjugated by the Moslems, but that was 200 years after the movie ended, and as yet there is no sequel.”

Visit the Mayor at the Movies website to view and read Mr Koch's archive chock full of reviewsLet me know your thoughts at eikoch@bryancave.com.

The Honorable Edward Irving Koch served New York City as its 105th Mayor from 1978  to  1989.

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eHeziEd Koch Movie Reviews: “Agora” BY Edward I. Koch

Comments 1

  1. Hi, Mr. Mayor, I’m so glad you’re still keeping your hand in. I saw Agora when it first came out in NYC and agree, the film was beautifully shot. I loved Weisz’ performance as Hypatia. Amenabar does distort some history in service to his art (the Library didn’t end that way and Synesius wasn’t a jerk), but that’s what artists do. I don’t go to the movies for history. For people who want to know more about the historical Hypatia, I highly recommend a very readable biography “Hypatia of Alexandria” by Maria Dzielska (Harvard University Press, 1995). I also have a series of posts on the historical events and characters in the film at my blog – not a movie review, just a “reel vs. real” discussion.

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