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Friday, May 20, 2011

Agora Review: We All Suck, But At Least We Suck Equally

I generally try to stay away from religion and politics in a public forum like this. I want anyone to feel welcome and engaged here regardless of background or belief system. There are enough universal truths for us to discuss without jumping onto the landmines. (Just wait for the upcoming outdoor fireplace review. Worst. Product. Ever.)

The film Agora requires me to stretch my rule, however, if not break it altogether. Bear with me. Agora is the best movie I’ve seen this month, so oh well. Here it is. Hopefully I escape with limbs still intact.

Religion, science, and history haven’t historically been friends. In fact, religion and history haven’t gotten along well at all. It’s a curious fact, really, considering most religions preach love, respect, and peace. Seems like we should all be able to get along pretty well. Then again, maybe it’s not surprising when humans clearly latch onto any justification for their own selfish ambitions. Religion is a perfect cover for the conflicting evil inside us and immediately draws supporters, unifying the ranks of misguided warriors. Agora illustrates this principle brilliantly while preserving the human element always behind shifting paradigms.

We meet Hypatia, a brilliant female philosopher in Roman era Egypt. To describe the plot further would make it sound trite, completely unfair since it’s anything but. The story is set against the backdrop of violent conflicts among the growing numbers of Christians, the existing population of Jews, and the followers of the ancient “gods” and philosophers. Hypatia and her followers (including members of all three groups) seem to think that they can all co-exist, and that spiritual beliefs and the pursuit of knowledge are not mutually exclusive. The powerful leaders of the warring parties covet control of the city. Therefore they disagree.

The film does a decent job of distributing the blame for the violence that ensues on all parties instead of taking the typical epic movie copout of labeling a clear good guy and bad guy. The manipulative, self-serving leaders of each group distort the very principles they supposedly represent in an effort to achieve their own pursuit of power. The masses follow blindly, devout sheep to the slaughter. I’ll let you discover where that leaves Hypatia who refuses to attach herself to any side.

Sadly, time hasn’t tempered our egocentrism and distrust of those who are different. We still fight each other in the name of piety and principles, even though those very principles preach against such hatred and violence. We define a group by the few misguided extremists that capture the public eye, sparking collective resentment and animosity. We apply what we see in a weak, imperfect person to the belief system they profess to follow, even though we don’t recognize our own hypocrisy.

Maybe we don’t whip rocks at each other anymore, but we’re pretty quick to throw stones. We’re all hypocrites to some extent because we all betray the code that guides our lives at times, whatever it may be. It’s not fair to judge a creed by its followers. For every power hungry zealot driven by errant hatred, there will be many devout believers whose sincere desire to improve humanity actually accomplishes that impossible task one good deed at a time. Those people don’t make headlines. Those people don’t write the pages of history. You can find some of those people in Agora.  

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