Alexandria, 391 AD: Hypatia teaches astronomy, mathematics, and philosophy. Her student Orestes is in love with her, as is Davus, her personal slave. As the city's Christians, led by Ammonius and Cyril, gain political power, the institutions of learning may crumble along with the governance of slavery. Jump ahead 20 years: Orestes, the city's prefect, has an uneasy peace with the Christians, led by Cyril. A group from the newly empowered Christians has now taken to enforce their cultural hegemony zealously; first they see the Jews as their obstacle, then nonbelievers. Hypatia has no interest in faith; she's concerned about the movement of celestial bodies and "the brotherhood of all". Although her former slave doesn't see it that way.

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Probably most people in classics know something about Hypatia of Alexandria. I myself discovered her while looking over a book my parents had, which was an illustrated history of the triumph of Christianity in ancient Rome, accompanied by a graphic depiction of the destruction of the Serapeum and the attack on the beautiful female philosopher (likely 60 at the time, but no matter). Alejandro Amenabar, however, has devoted an entire film to this story, and one can see that the subject fascinates him. How did we become who we are today? What was it that transformed the Roman Empire (the Western World, in other words) into the world of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson? Sure, the events happened more than 1500 years ago, but the link is clear as glass. In a world which set design has rendered so believably that it might as well be taken directly from a wall painting from Pompeii, and populated by characters so well cast (at least physically) that they might, as one reviewer has already said, come from Greco-Roman mummy portraits from Roman Egypt, particularly Davus, the slave boy (Max Minghella) and Ammonius, the fanatic (Ashraf Barhom), the civilization of the Hellenistic world is coming under attack by the forces of an intolerant form of Christianity, which seeks to "purify" the city of Alexandria. Hypatia, however, dispenses with religious distinctions in her classroom, teaching pagans, Christians, and Jews alike the secrets of the universe. Her earnest pursuit of scientific truth trumps all other preoccupations, until, at the end of the film, she finds, to her horror and incomprehension, that her very existence on this earth has become impossible. I have to say that I found the film very engrossing, but then, I love the period and am fascinated by the religious upheavals of late antiquity. I can say that all of the actors perform wonderfully, though I do wish the role of Davus had been fleshed out. Minghella is heartbreaking, and his role perfectly illustrates what it was that likely made many turn to Christianity. If only we could have seen more of him. At times, the film seems like his story, not Hypatia's, and he vanishes for most of the second half. I myself buy why Hypatia has so many suitors (Weisz makes her extremely intelligent without sacrificing physical beauty, and imbues her with a wide eyed, childlike quality that exudes vulnerability and innocence), but I think I needed to see her struggle with her demons more. Why does she reject Orestes? A single shot hints at a conflict here, but it is left at that. The film had an additional twenty minutes that were cut for the sake of marketability. . .perahps the director's cut will illuminate this more? To sum up, the film is flawed, too much character development is sacrificed for the sake of pacing, but in the end, it is an affecting film about a time period that needs to be better known.

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