[Excerpted from “Now I’m in the Agora … But They Don’t Have Anything I Want to Buy …” by P Sufenas Virius Lupus]
I have been waiting for the better part of two years to see Alejandro Amenábar’s film Agora. Thanks to the wonders of Netflix, I was able to do so at last earlier today. Like many things that one is awaiting for extended periods of time, the anticipation is often greater than the reward, and oftentimes even the best of things is at least slightly less wonderful, if for no other reason than that rarely does reality match what is possible in one’s imagination. And yet, the let-down on Agora was even greater for me for a variety of reasons, including that so many modern pagans (and others) have so favorably reviewed the film–several of whom are my friends, people whose opinions I trust and who I have great respect for, like Sannion, Jason Pitzl-Waters, T. Thorn Coyle, Star Foster, and Faith L. Justice (the link there is the first in a multi-part series). Note, I have not lost any respect for any of the people named here, I just have a very different opinion on this film than they happen to have.
Let me start by saying what I liked about the film. It is beautifully produced and staged, and it is visually stunning and appealing. In these respects, I think that’s the best part about the film. It gives a visual feel for what late antique Alexandria would have been like; and even though some of the building designs and staging were not necessarily 100% accurate (on which more later), the syncretic Egyptian and Greek/Roman style of the architecture certainly makes a great deal of sense both culturally, theologically, and archaeologically for what occurred during that time period. Things were considerably cleaner, I think, than they would have been in reality (in this, the HBO/BBC series Rome was spot-on in its pitiless portrayal of dirt, grit, spit and shit), but most idealized cinematic portrayals can be accused of that, for good or ill. People don’t want to clean trash off modern city streets–why would they make additional garbage and muck to put on fake streets that they then have to clean up afterwards? (Especially on such a limited budget–they did a wonderful job, though, with $50 million [rather low for a film of this magnitude, even though that’s beyond most people’s wildest dreams], both with CGI and with actual sets.) But still, the visuals, particularly the panoramic shots of different parts of Alexandria, were quite wonderful. There was a dramatic shift in color schemes overall once the shift from the pagan period to the Christian domination of Alexandria occurred, and all the colors became muted and dimmed, if not disappearing altogether, and the diversity in the crowds in terms of dress and accoutrements became reduced to a bland homogeneity. They did successfully capture the feel of the time and place, I think ….