I heard about Agora from Jason over at the Wild Hunt. He first mentioned it in ’08, where he extolled it as likely to be a Pagan-friendly work. Well, that was enough for me, so I waited for it to come out.
And waited some more.
Meanwhile, Jason was giving occasional tidbits: the movie was to center around the life of Hypatia and the destruction of the great library at Alexandria. I vaguely remembered the name Hypatia from posters my mom had around the Math room of Women In Mathematics, but that was about it. So I added to my “Reasons To See This Movie” list “feminism”. Somewhere along the line (likely also from the Wild Hunt, although I can’t find the post), I heard that Christians were up in arms about the movie because it depicted them as violent oppressors of Pagans; you know, because it was historically accurate. So I added “anti-Christian” to that list. Anything that upsets the Christians is probably worth my time.
Well, it has finally been released and I went to see it yesterday. (Two days ago, it was playing at two, count them two, theaters in LA. Yesterday, it was down to one. If you have any interest, find a local theater now or it will be gone.)
A. Maz. Ing. While it did treat Pagans perhaps more sympathetically than Christians would hope, what I got out of it was more atheistic than pagan. The film takes place in the midst of the clash of three religions: the Hellenic/Egyptian paganism of the elite class, the Christianity of the slaves and masses, and the Judaism of the middle class. And clash they do. The film impressed upon me the fact that religions are a danger to those around them; this was true across the board.
Further, two of the main characters changed religion: both for an increase in their social status. Religion, then, is viewed both as something changeable and as expedient. Both undergo crises of faith which are met with two responses. One is told to neither doubt nor question; the other is guided by a friend toward an even deeper faith. In the end, the first realizes the error and acts to undo the harm religion has caused; the second becomes ever further entrenched in the religion. I found this to be a wonderful allegory to how religion often treats its adherents: those who are given the strongarm (don’t question, just have faith) are more likely to leave while those whose questions are dealt with sensitively end up further in. Perhaps, also, the relationship with the questioner’s answerer is important; for the one who leaves, the apologist is a cold, violent missionary; for the one who stays, the apologist is a trusted friend who knows the true reason for the questioning.
The film is also quite a good piece of historical fiction. It takes a time about which much is known and brings to life certain characters about which slightly less is known. The major events of the film happened; and likely happened in the way they are depicted. The relationships between the characters may or may not be true, but are a reason to watch the film. The New York Times‘ film reviewer said, that there is no sugar coating on the difficult subjects and certainly, horrifying events like the destruction of the library are shown in almost gory detail. The sins of humanity’s past are laid bare for us to see. And for us to wonder whether or not they are truly in our past.
I don’t want to give too much away, but I found it to be a rousing film for feminists, historians, and atheists alike.
Perhaps the most interesting part for me was the depiction of the Christian morality police, the Parabalani (here is the Catholic Encyclopedia entry and the Wikipedia one, which is mostly just copied, although there are some word changes which make it a wee bit more objective). Their depiction in the film was quite interesting. The Mutaween they were not, but they were certainly violent defenders of the [Christian] faith.
Definitely worth watching, whether to enjoy the rich visuals of Hellenic Egypt, to savor the ever-wonderful storytelling of Alejandro Amenábar, to bask in the feminism of the world’s first-known female mathematician (and astronomer and philosopher), to stick it to the Christian man by enjoying a world where pagans held power and Christians were the rioting mob, or to revel in the antitheistic message of a time when violence ruled all religions—just like today.
It’s got it all: atheism, spirituality, god, scifi, and good music!! Hulu’s got the first four eps up right now (and it doesn’t keep them forever), so go catch up. It’s too smart and too well written to stay on the air for long.
It’s the story of Kings David and Saul transposed into a country that looks like present-day America. It’s smart, sometimes funny, and often reminds me of Dune with it’s spiritual overtones (the King has been selected by a nebulous God, only to be usurped by the next King by the same God). Each ep gives me another song that I want to get (including one by Liszt). The characters are sympathetic and real, even the minor ones; the issues that they have are painful and don’t feel contrived.
This is a new generation of scifi—it’s not utopian or dystopian. It’s just other. And awesome.
First of all, it was revealed recently that Barack Obama has a collection of Spider Man and Conan comics. Do you hear that? OUR FUTURE PRESIDENT READS MARVEL!!1! Bush strikes me as a Superman guy. (Green Party types read Vertigo and Maus and maybe Love and Rockets)
So when Madeleine Brand (who I love!) of NPR’s Day to Day did a short piece covering this, she treats comic book collecting like an embarassing disease, like a case of the nerd scabies or something. The comic book shop owner she interviews attempts to inject some seriousness, pointing out the escapist nature of most superhero comics. When she expresses relief that “he’s not into the really out there stuff…something a little more disturbing,” I feel like she’s dimissing an entire vibrant and growing cultural medium and perpetuating negative stereotypes. Maybe I have a clue now how granola/green Evangelicals feel when they get lumped in with global warming denialists.
One more thing: Jana’s taking me to see The Dark Knight this evening! On the big screen! Not only am I a huge fan of just about everything that Frank Miller has churned out, but the casting is incredible–if Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Michael Caine and Maggie Gyllenhaal were having a post-production orgy and needed a love slave, I would volunteer in a heartbeat.
Don’t think too much about that last bit.
This is the trailer for a new movie, a Jihad for Love. I thought it was apropos given Prop 8′s drawing ever nearer. It is a story about the struggle of gay Muslims. I have added it to my Netflix queue, but if it comes out in the greater LA area, I’ll prolly get a group together if people are interested.
In an effort to give MoF readers a deeper insight to our souls, John has put various widgets on the borders of this page: from GoodReads and the ever-present blogroll to his Twitter stream. I like that he called it “Mind on Twitter”, since that essentially defines my thoughts when he invited me to twit: “this is your mind on twitter…any questions?” Twitter, for those of you who may not know, is a microblog that only allows 140 characters for each post. That keeps things succinct and, hopefully, witty.
But I have bit the bullet and now I twit. You can follow my stream here, or wait for us to figure out how to put my stream under MoT. And I’ve gotten in to it! I initially was following just John and a few streams recommended by Dooce, but I’ve started branching out. I’m now following AlmightyGod (who can tweet 141 characters but chooses not to) and BrandNewAtheist (who enjoys long walks on the beach and the Emperor’s New Groove; and maybe not the beach so much). And Wil Wheaton.
Those paying close attention to John’s link to Re: Your Brains last year, will have noted that not only does John know the deepest desires of my 12 year old self, those desires are pretty messed up. While everyone around me swooned over “attractive” men, I went straight for the geek. As you can all see, nothing much has changed in the mean time. Except that Wil Wheaton grew up. And when I went to his website (the one linked to by John), I was quite disappointed; I did not find the man of my grade school dreams but an arrogant geek (I know, I know, “Hello pot, this is the kettle…”). So his blog did not get added to my morning opening-of-blogs-in-tabs. But now that I’m getting his tweets, he is re-rising in my esteem. And that validates the fact that I’ve been in love with him my entire conscious life. (Yes, my husband knows and that’s part of why he loves me…)
So: Twitter has renewed my love for Wil Wheaton and for that reason I invite you all to twit. Anything that has Wil Wheaton in it is good, this is a simple law of the universe (examples: Star Trek, Wikipedia, the Internet).
My cousin does a lot of babysitting. She recently babysat a kid who was trying to tell her about a friend’s imaginary friend, Genius, who was a reverse zombie: he died but then, instead of wanting to eat your brains, he wants us to eat his. It took my (Catholic) cousin a long time to realize that this (obviously non-Christian) child was trying to explain that her friend’s imaginary friend was Jesus and that she was describing the Mass. At which point she laughed heartily.
This comes to mind because I just found these:
Kinda ironic that all religion really wants is to eat your brains. I also find it interesting that the only Christian I know I used to work with at the Apple Store was obsessed with zombies. Maybe the reason everyone thinks the End Times are at hand (besides the fact that, you know, they’re always at hand) is because zombies are in the zeitgeist. Anyone who hasn’t seen Shawn of the Dead run, don’t walk to Netflix and watch it. It will save your soul.
I haven’t yet seen WALL•E, but here is an article I found interesting discussing the genders of the two main robots. It is an interesting discussion of the perceived genders we apply to the characters based on our cultural assumptions. It is also interesting, however, how we can work beyond them.
“Could It Be? Did Hollywood Execs Get The Memo?” speculates on the reason for the number of movies-about-women (which seems to correspond with movies-by-women). I would take issue with her assertion that Mama Mia! or Kit are any great leaps forward for womankind, but I’ve not seen either, so I won’t get into that here.