Alternating between cosmic splendor and human squalor, Agora is a movie of unusual ambition. In the last days of the Roman Empire, the Egyptian city of Alexandria is torn between the aristocratic pagan society and the emerging, rough-and-tumble Christians. As this broad cultural conflict teeters violently back and forth, the scientist-philosopher Hypatia (Rachel Weisz, The Brothers Bloom, The Fountain) struggles to resolve the motion of the planets with her belief in celestial perfection. Tangled in her life are three men: a Roman prefect (Oscar Isaac, Body of Lies), a Christian bishop (Rupert Evans, Hellboy), and a slave (Max Minghella, The Social Network) who turns to Christianity to escape his unrequited love for Hypatia. Some viewers will be uncomfortable with Agora‘s depiction of early Christianity and others will quibble about the movie’s historical accuracy, but the movie’s themes–of faith vs. zealotry, of religion vs. the spirituality of science–and its vivid depiction of one culture being brutally supplanted by another demonstrate a scope seldom found in contemporary film.
Writer-director Alejandro Amenábar previously made popular ghost story The Others, mind-bender Open Your Eyes, and heartbreaker The Sea Inside; clearly, this is a career to watch. Don’t overlook the deleted scenes–the gorgeous original opening shot accentuates the twin pulls of science and spirituality. –Bret Fetzer