Thursday, February 11, 2010

Posted by cendol

Debuting at Cannes, this screening was the North American premiere. The theatre was full of festival attendees and rows of Blackberry, Bell, and AMC sponsorship employees. But once the lights dimmed and the movie began, all that went away and Amenábar encompassed us in the city of Alexandria. A woman, the daughter of the head of the glorious library holding mankind's history, Hypatia, played nicely by Rachel Weisz, is the voice and teacher for a new generation of Egyptians. It is a mixed group of those still believing in the Gods, (pagans), and the new Christian contingent, being persecuted while also persecuting as well. Hypatia looks past all that, refusing to align herself with a religion, instead utilizing science itself as her philosophy's backbone. Teaching and comprehending the world as heliocentric, attempting to grasp at the idea of gravity many, many years before its discovery to allow for a geocentric model, it all derails once bigotry prevails. The agora becomes a scene of Christians throwing fruit at the statues of the Gods, an offense that the pagans must meet with retribution. It all turns into a fight that exposes the infinite number of Christians living in the city. All those who hid their beliefs expose themselves for the battle, eventually driving the pagans back into the library to await word from the prefect on what's to be done for a truce.

The fight is epic in scope and execution—a mass of humanity fighting friends in the streets. Amenábar has no fear in showing the brutality and intimacy of the war. We see overhead shots of people running around like ants, but also close-up views of the men engaging with each other, taking it as personally as possible. When a man's slave must reconcile his duty to his master and that to his God, the pain and conflict is etched on his face. Screaming, "I'm a Christian!" and then going over to beat the man he served, epitomizes the event completely. You could argue that the fighting scenes overshadow the rest in effectiveness and you would be right. The scenes of government, school, and scientific research do become second fiddle to the hostility brewing underneath the surface, as they are somewhat generic and not too original as far as historical biographies go. They are a necessity, though, to give the audience a jumping off point as to why both factions feel the need to disagree and prove their superiority. Just wait for the second half—after a clumsy transitional time jump—where most pagans have become Christians themselves in order to survive in the new rebuilt Alexandria. It now becomes a war between them and the Jews, fighting for equality in a government ruled by one of Hypatia's former students, Oscar Isaac's Orestes, a newly made Christian, yet educated by a woman … blasphemy indeed.


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