Agora: Movie Mechanics

I started wriging about Agora in order to talk about religion and politics displacing information with misinformation, driving out intelligence and promoting mass hysteria: but I wound up commenting on the movie as art as well: cast, cinematography, direction, editing, CGI … and I create this post to house those comments. Of course all of the categories overlap: the movie mixes history with fiction, fact with myth … Rachel Weisz is acting Hypatia but she’s Rachel Weisz whatever she’s doing …

Rachel Weisz
Rachel Weisz is an actress I hated the first time I saw her (The Mummy), loved, admired, almost worshipped the next time I noticed her (Enemy at the Gate), and simply adored the last time I saw her (The Constant Gardener). But her Hypatia is acting at its best. (End of the month, now I’m rewatching The Mummy: I love her, hate the movie even more.)

Still jotting stuff scrapbook fashion: this thought just attacked me! One of the admirable aspects of Weisz’s performance here, her suitability for the part, is that she is a beauty, but no longer a spring chicken. Hypatia’s students love her as well as admire her, and lust for her! All these males! bumping along behind her, drooling! look at those hips! look at those loins! behold that bosom! Hypatia couldn’t care less about that. I bet Rachel Weisz is plenty glad she’s a looker, and still atrractive as an adult, but her Hypatia acts indifferent to it. She does not sympathize with her students’ lust: she discourages the attentions of one by giving him a used sanitary napkin of hers! And Weisz brings it off! She accepts her body, she doesn’t flaunt it. She doesn’t apologize for her excretions, neither does she mistake them for a palace. What she offers us eagerly is her mind. We can’t imagine Marilyn Monroe playing this role at forty. And I can’t imagine even Julia Roberts or Jessica Lang doing it as well or even Bette Davis doing it any better!

One wonderful aspect of the movie is its international cast. Hollywood is a rich base-stock of talent, but it’s not a monopoly. We see Weisz being great, and other stars being worthy, but we also see actors we’re a deal less familiar with. I’m thrilled to recognize Homayoun Ershadi, a Persian actor I’d seen in Taste of Cherry playing the slave who helps Hypatia with her experiments to the end. It was this Aspasius who climbed the mast to drop the sack in her momentum experiment. It was he who helped her set the ellipse drawing in the sand: her piece de resistance.


Some of the movie’s effects are wonderful. Decades ago Bucky Fuller imagined (and may have executed for all I know) a zoom shot from macro to micro: first, show universe: galaxies upon galaxies: zoom in: Milky Way, solar system, earth: atmosphere, couds … details, eventually the eye of a fly: then, continue to zoom in: cells, mocecules, atoms … Well, Agora does that: more than once. The camera finds the limb of earth, discerns continents … the Mediterranean, approaches Alexandria, makes out buildings, enters a particular building: people move about … Then, normal camera work: close ups and so forth. Marvelous.

Now that involves CGI etc, and to a point, that’s fine. But I also want to commend technical stuff that’s far more conceptual than Gee Whiz in the CIA’s toy store. The mingling of individuals movements, figures like bees in a hive, ants in a next, people in the agora mixed with models of Alexandria is excellent. But most exciting to me was the shuffling of foreground, middle ground and background. I haven’t sen anything so well conceived and executed since Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men. It’s thrilling to behold shots that make you think how they’ve been thought! Fellini! Antonioni! Wells! Hmm, come to think of it, Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark impressed me very much in that vein. Watch Agora‘s battle for the Serapium, then recall the attack on the car on the road in Children. In one background mixes with foreground; in the other background becomes foreground!

Children of Men

Foreground / Middleground Attention Tug
Cuarón used related effects.

2013 09 07 Now Cuarón is out with Gravity, can’t wait to see it. Peer to Orson Wells, Tarkovsky: what shots, what planning! What wonderful multi-dimensional games!

About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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