I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a weeper. I can squeeze out a tear, maybe two in a sad movie, but crying isn’t something I do often or easily. I wept softly all through Agora. *There may be spoilers ahead.*
I’d been waiting to see Agora for months. Finally the little art-house cinema in midtown decided to show it for a week, and some friends of mine decided to make an urban adventure of it. The nature of our adventure actually added to the experience of seeing the film. We first made a stop by the Dekalb Farmer’s Market, a huge indoor “agora” filled with foods both local and from all around the world. The ceiling is hung with the flags of every nation. People spoke dozens of languages about me and women in shorts shopped alongside women with only their eyes and hands visible. From this modern marketplace of peaceful diversity I arrived at the theater.
Agora is a film with many layers. It’s language is high-flown, but not so flowery as to lose relevance. It’s a story about tension. Upper classes against lower classes, free against slave, occupier against occupied, religion against religion, faith against science, love against indifference, reason against irrational violence and the human mind against the complexity of the universe.
I am going to be honest. It’s hard for me to write this without a bias. The film evoked strong emotions. I’m going to try to honor those feelings without giving into bashing other faiths. As a Pagan, this was not an easy film to watch. Seeing our Gods, temples, centers of learning, priests and philosophers desecrated was painful. Really painful. We know it happened. We’ve read about it. To actually see it makes it real in a way I did not expect. When I saw the large crucifix erected in the Serapeum, I became nauseous.
What was it like, to live in those days when Christianity was rising and temples were desecrated, religious freedoms were stripped and people were killed in the market for reverencing the old Gods? I cannot imagine it but it gives me sympathy for Christians today who are seeing old churches turned into secular spaces, or used for other faith traditions.
The film reminded me that when you let your rights be eaten away, a little at a time, you will eventually lose all. There is a scene towards the end where Orestes, after years of concessions and appeasement still thinks he is holding out against the Christian fanatics, and in the background is a statue of Romulus and Remus suckling at the wolf. The contrast illustrates how far this Republic of free men has fallen.
The conflict is begun by the Christians, who mock the old Gods and desecrate their statues in the agora. This is met in turn by violence from the Pagans, who underestimated the Christians numbers and a bloody riot fills the streets. The result of this conflict is the desecration and burning of the great library of Alexandria. What waste. Rather than peacefully coexist, lives were lost and the knowledge of the Western world was destroyed over an idea about the nature of God.
No one’s hands are clean in Agora. There is mercy and cruelty on all sides. The true victims in Agora are freedom and tolerance. The loss of free and open speech, of sovereignty over your own soul, is a devastating loss. We have lost so much, have fought so hard to regain our spiritual birthright, that I hope we do not forget the lessons of history. Violence is a poor substitute for diplomacy and fear does not a true convert make.
Hypatia is the symbol of human possibility. She is the searching, questioning, open human yearning towards the stars. Long beloved of the Pagan community, her portrayal in Agora is elegant and probing. While the library and serapeum were symbols of the wonders humanity could create, Hypatia is the example of the type of human that creates such wonders.When her light is extinguished, it seems as if all hope has been sucked from life.
I think Agora is one of the most important films the Pagan community has ever received. It explores a world suddenly devoid of our virtues, lost in darkness. We have been climbing back towards life, knowledge and liberty ever so slowly. We cannot lose what wisdom we have gained through science and spirit by acting with rash violence or becoming disenfranchised through appeasement. We must be stalwart, steady defenders of reason and spirit in the new age. Our planet is teetering on the brink. We cannot afford to misstep, and sink into darkness once more.