Agora Movie Full Production Notes
Agora (Spanish: Ágora) is a Spanish English-language historical drama film directed by Alejandro Amenábar and written by Amenábar and Mateo Gil. The biopic stars Rachel Weisz as Hypatia, a female mathematician, philosopher and astronomer in late 4th-century Roman Egypt, who investigates the flaws of the geocentric Ptolemaic system and the heliocentric model that challenges it. Surrounded by religious turmoil and social unrest, Hypatia struggles to save the knowledge of classical antiquity from destruction. Max Minghella co-stars as Davus, Hypatia’s father’s slave, and Oscar Isaac as Hypatia’s student, and later prefect of Alexandria, Orestes.
The story uses historical fiction to highlight the relationship between religion and science amidst the decline of Greco-Roman polytheism and the Christianization of the Roman Empire. The title of the film takes its name from the agora, a gathering place in ancient Greece, similar to the Roman forum. The film was produced by Fernando Bovaira and shot on the island of Malta from March to June 2008. Justin Pollard, co-author of The Rise and Fall of Alexandria (2007), was the historical advisor for the film.
About the Story
In 391 AD, Alexandria is part of the Roman Empire, and Greek philosopher Hypatia (Rachel Weisz) is a teacher at the Platonic school, where future leaders are educated. Hypatia is the daughter of Theon (Michael Lonsdale), the director of the Musaeum of Alexandria. Hypatia, her father’s slave, Davus (Max Minghella), and two of her pupils, Orestes (Oscar Isaac) and Synesius (Rupert Evans), are immersed in the changing political and social landscape. She rejects Orestes’s love (she offers him her bloody menstrual towel, to show him that love has its drawbacks, while studying has none): she prefers to devote herself to science. Davus assists Hypatia in her classes and is interested in science, and is also secretly in love with her.
Meanwhile, social unrest begins challenging the Roman rule of the city as Pagans and Christians come into conflict. When the Christians start defiling the statues of the pagan gods, the pagans, including Orestes and Hypatia’s father, ambush the Christians to squash their rising influence. However, in the ensuing battle, the pagans unexpectedly find themselves outnumbered by a large Christian mob.
Hypatia’s father is gravely injured and Hypatia and the pagans take refuge in the Library of the Serapeum. The Christian siege of the library ends when an envoy of the Roman Emperor declares that the pagans are pardoned, however the Christians shall be allowed to enter the library and do with it what they please. Hypatia and the pagans flee, trying to save the most important scrolls, before the Christians overtake the library and destroy its contents. Davus chooses to join the Christian forces. He later returns with a gladius and starts sexually assaulting her, but quickly begins to sob and offers his sword to her. However, she removes his slave collar and tells him he is free.
Several years later, Orestes, now converted to Christianity, is prefect of Alexandria. Hypatia continues to investigate the motions of the Sun, the Moon, the five known “wanderers” (planets) and the stars. Some Christians ridicule the thinking that the Earth is a sphere, by arguing that people far from the top would fall off the Earth. When they ask Davus his opinion he avoids conflict by saying that only God knows these things.
Hypatia also investigates the heliocentric model of the solar system proposed by Aristarchus of Samos; by having an object dropped from the mast of a moving ship she demonstrates to Orestes that a possible motion of the Earth would not affect the motion, relative to Earth, of a falling object on Earth. However, due to religious objections against heliocentrism, the Christians have now forbidden Hypatia to teach at the school. The Christians and the Jews come into conflict, committing violent acts against each other.
The leader of the Christians, Cyril (Sami Samir), views Hypatia as having too much influence over Orestes and stages a public ceremony intended to force Orestes to subjugate her. Hypatia’s former pupil, Synesius, now the Bishop of Cyrene, comes to her rescue as a religious authority counterweight, but says he cannot help her unless she accepts Christianity; she refuses. Hypatia makes a personal discovery, theorizing that the Earth orbits around the Sun in an elliptic, not circular, orbit with the Sun at one of the foci. Cyril convinces a mob of Christians that Hypatia is a witch and they vow to kill her.
Davus tries to run ahead to warn Hypatia, but she is captured by the mob. They strip Hypatia naked and are about to skin her alive until Davus persuades the mob otherwise, and they decide to stone her instead. When everyone goes outside to collect stones, Davus secretly suffocates her to spare her the pain of being stoned to death and tells the mob that she fainted. Davus leaves as they begin to stone her.
Directed by: Alejandro Amenábar
Starring by: Rachel Weisz, Max Minghella, Oscar Isaac, Ashraf Barhom, Michael Londsdale, Amber Rose Revah, Rupert Evans
Screenplay by: Alejandro Amenábar
Production Design by: Guy Hendrix Dyas
Cinematography by: Xavi Giménez
Film Editing by: Nacho Ruiz Capillas
Costume Design by: Gabriella Pescucci
Set Decoration by: Larry Dias
Music by: Dario Marianelli
MPAA Rating: R for some violence.
Studio: Newmarket Films
Release Date: May 28, 2010