by NIR SHALEV
Originally, director Alejandro Amenábar’s intentions were to make a film about the cosmos and our known universe. What eventually developed is a film about 4th century Roman Egypt, the battle between pagans, Christians, and Jews in the city of Alexandria and the short life and times of philosopher, astrologer, and atheist Hypathia.
Hypathia (Rachel Weisz) teaches classes about the universe and why planets rotate. She believes heavily in the fact that the perfect shape, the circle, is the answer to the all the common questions regarding the universe and tries to understand why on one side of the earth there is the sun and on the other side the moon. The ellipse being the answer was not too far from reach, though.
There are two stories paralleling each other in this film: one tells of the studies of Hypathia and the other concerns the evil that is the Christian faith. Alexandria is a beautiful city, according to this film, and is mostly occupied by pagans but Christian sects are causing a ruckus by battling the pagans in mind games revolving each other’s faiths. After a small massacre erupts and the surviving pagans seek refuge in the gigantic and holy library of Alexandria, Emperor Flavius Augustus Honorius decrees that the pagans will receive safe passage out of the city and that the Christians are allowed to do what they will to the library. Once the pagans are out of the picture the Christians systematically take on all of the Jews. Their faith decrees that the word of God is the true word and those that do not agree must be baptised or else punished. We witness many killings and the film does not shy away from the violence, exemplifying how evil the Christian of that era were.
Most of Hypathia’s students turn to Christianity and the man who’d attempted to woo her months before becomes the prefect of Alexandria. She still has some friends but mostly enemies, seeing that she stares at the stars every day and the word God never even crosses her mind.
This is not a low budget film, seeing that the sets are huge and gorgeous. The representation of Egypt in the 4th century is fantastic to look at and great special effects depict the beauty and size of the architecture. We are also given many shots of the Earth from outer space, visually punctuating segments that differentiate religion from science.
And, of course, Rachel Weisz and the other cast members are terrific. The film’s depiction of Christians in general is harsh but the message is entirely pointing at historical merit and not mass persecution. Who they may have been back then is definitely not who they are now and so this tends to be a rather dangerous film. As much as I’d enjoyed it the film made me hate every single Christian character in it because I am a Jew. What the Jews go through in the film is worse than what the pagans go through but, again it’s just history and this is only a movie.
Hypathia had eventually discovered and understood that the path of our solar system’s planets is ellipse-shaped approximately 1200 years before the great German mathematician, astrologer, and astronomer, Johannes Kepler did. Kepler’s theories today are the ones famous in explaining the planetary ellipse path because, unfortunately, Hypathia’s works did not even survive even a century after the events that happened at the end of the film.
The DVD includes an introduction by the director, Deleted Scenes, the trailer, and a 48-minute documentary titled Alexandria: the Greatest City.