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Film review: Agora - John Charmley - 28-04-2010 04:23 PM

I don't know whether anyone here has seen, or intends to see, the film Agora starring Rachel Weisz as Hypatia, but a word of warning is in order.

I know we are used to a general anti-Christian bias in parts of the media, and films are hardly supportive of the Faith, but this one is a particular horror.

The Christians of fifth century Alexandria are presented as essentially an early branch of the Taleban, a bunch of thugs who spend their time toughing up cultivated pagans and harmless Jews. St, Cyril is presented as the lineal ancestor of Osama bin Laden without the humour, who orders the death of the lovely and intelligent pagan philosopher, Hypatia, after having helped organise the burning down of the great library of Alexandria.

One had hoped that Gibbon's gross misrepresentation had been corrected, but clearly not, Kingsley's version lives, breathes, and is Rachel Weisz.

I'm awaiting the early life of Muhammad from the same folk.

In Christ,

John


- vrc - 21-05-2010 11:06 PM

Thank you for the 'heads up' - I saw this poster recently and thought it might be worth viewing at some point.

I shall save my time and money.

Frankly, I get rather fed up with 'Christian -bashing', although I am acutely aware that early Christians would hear my 'plaint with some amusement, given that we are at least free (in the UK at least) to follow our faith without interference or threat of lions! But there is definitely a media onslaught agin Christianity.

Sometimes I take heart that Jesus' message is still so powerful - clearly, some are afraid of that message, still. I suspect that if they were not afraid of that power, no bashing would occur. Isn't that what happened at the beginning - fear, lies, distortion, portrayal of Christians (and their founder!) as troublemakers?

Of course, I'd rather they were not afraid....

Incidentally, I heard years ago that 'Christians flayed alive the librarian of Alexandria (her name was Flavia), prior to setting the library on fire'. Does anybody know the truth of the destruction of this library?


- John Charmley - 22-05-2010 08:27 AM

As with the idea propagated by the film that a bunch of taliban-like Christians looted and set fire to the Great Library, the idea that they 'flayed' the librarian too, is one of those myths picked up by Edward Gibbon and quoted ever since by people who think him a reliable source; he isn't.

The Library was burned down, by accident. Hypatia was certainly killed by zealots who may well have called themselves Christians, but the idea that St. Cyril was involved is not supported by recent scholars such as McGuckin.

The film is an interesting variation on how many ways can the media attack Christianity, and if I have saved you a few pounds, I'm glad, it makes up for the ones I spent on it Smile

peace,

John


- Fr Simon - 22-05-2010 08:40 AM

I remember a Christian friend of mine many years ago used to put up posters outside his house with Bible verses on and how one day someone had slashed one of the posters with a knife. He took a positive view of this, that the worst thing was when there was no reaction or response at all, just indifference - whereas the poster had at least provoked a response in this person. "If you have a heart you can be saved." (Abba Pambo)

On the particular question of the death of the last librarian and of who was responsible for the destruction of the library of Alexandria - now then, if only Sherlock Holmes had not retired and refused to take on any more cases... There seems no shortage of speculation and possible suspects - a brief summary of things can be found at <!-- m --><a class="postlink" href="http://ehistory.osu.edu/world/articles/ArticleView.cfm?AID=9">http://ehistory.osu.edu/world/articles/ ... .cfm?AID=9</a><!-- m -->

Whilst I am not so naive as to pretend that Christians have never done terrible things this does not in and of itself prove that they are guilty of everything laid at their door by accusers and when Edward Gibbon is one of the accusers I am not so naive as to take everything he wrote at face value either. Edward Gibbon (Decline and Fall of the Roman empire) demonstrates that Christian bashing in the media is nothing new.

But as my dear old friend pointed out, a reaction's much better than indifference.

And, in fairness to the media, it is not always in one anti-Christian direction. There have been some absolutely excellent television programmes in recent months - a wonderful series on a history of Christian art (including mafnificent photography of Coptic icons on monastery walls and wonderful Western stained glass), some respectful programmes showing Ethiopian Christianity, and only last night I caught most of a brilliant episode in a recent series on an Anglican parish priest in Sussex who in the run up to Christmas was putting up signs calling on people to slow down and take time out and come into the Church at 5.30 for 20 minutes quiet meditation. I nearly shouted at the television, I'm with you there brother! Right on! Go for it! How many came? Just one person came. So he and this one woman experienced 20 minutes quiet meditation out of the mad pre-Chrsitmas rush. It was a programme with valuable insights into our priorities and how we spend these years God has given us to live in this life.

And then once in a while the media throws up something altogether extraordinary such as a professionally made film (unlike some cheap films made by churches which however well intentioned I tend to find so embarrassing as to put people off altogether) and one of these I plan for us to watch later in the year in our Bournemouth Church weekend. I hope to use it as a starting point for teaching and discussion on a range of areas of Orthodox Christian spirituality. But more on that in due course...


Film review: Agora - kirk yacoub - 22-05-2010 09:31 AM

Well, I've not seen the film, and I am unlikely to, not for religious reasons, my faith enables me to think for myself, but for reasons too tedious to go into (Maybe, one day, my memoirs will be posthumously published!)
The only remark I wish to make is that St Cyril, being a great saint, comes in for a lot of stick, and not just by anti-Christians. In a selection of Christian spiritual writings the well-known Eastern Orthodox theologian Olivier Clement gives a brief pen-portrait of St Cyril in which he is made to resemble a Marlon Brando style godfather rather than a pillar of the Church. It is so sad, so pointless, so..... (fill in your own words!)

Kirk Yacoub


- John Charmley - 22-05-2010 12:50 PM

... so typical Big Grin

peace,

John


- trespaser5 - 30-05-2010 07:29 PM

I've noticed a love of portraying Christians as psycotic killers, I'm not sure it represents the secular media view of Christianity, no that is much worse. Many a film portrays the harsh, unbending xenophobia of anglicanism, the peadophilic misogynistic catholic, the happy clappy homophobic evangelical. I'm not sure Christians should take it too personally, we are asked to be meek and down trodden and as a religion that asks people to take a long look in the moral mirror you can't expect journalists to be too positive. On the bright side, so far, I haven't found any insulting steriotype for the orthodox, atleast not in Britain so perhaps you're doing well.

love and prayers


- vrc - 30-05-2010 08:50 PM

You missed out the films and shows displaying a blasphemous view of Jesus, most probably created by people who have never allowed themselves to try to form a relationship with Him.

There is definitely a growing trend (I think it may be linked to extreme left-wing politics, like communism, etc.) towards atheism amongst younger people, in the west and, sadly, if their only exposure of Christianity is negative, it leaves them without the option of forming a more spiritually enlightened view.

I did watch the series of programmes called "A History of Christianity", presented by Diarmud MacCulloch, which was good and, I thought, balanced.

(I especially liked the instalment concerning Russia's Red Square, where there had been an Orthodox church until it was demolished by Stalin. Directly after the fall of the Iron Curtain, the locals had the church re-built to a replica of the original.)

Politically, people are much easier to control if they drop the pesky belief that they have a soul and might even reach immortality. The drive for 'secularism' in administrative offices, such as they have in America and which trend has all but taken over here, is worrying. Such films as 'Agora' provide bulwark support for this trend through 'entertainment'.

Fortunately, the Church was founded by God and will not be destroyed. "Heaven and earth shall pass away but my words shall not pass away."

As the quote goes, 'if God is for us, who can be against us?'


- John Charmley - 30-05-2010 09:17 PM

Yes, you are both right - and we know that the Gates of Hell will not prevail.

peace,

John


- DanielM - 31-05-2010 12:16 AM

I tend to find any portryal of religion in movies today to show someone either insanely preaching, ageing, or murderous.
Whenever a main character is religious in a movie they are willing to put aside their faith for some "greater good" or comedy value. Ironically the only movies where they do not do this tend to come from Russia or Persia these days, either that or medieval.

vrc, I also watched theHistory of Christianity series and it gave me a lot o laugh about, and really made me wonder what is going on in the Oxford divinity schools. The series was indeed well produced but just seemed to portray the Ortodox as some lost tradition as most western Christian shows tend to do. It refered to the Oriental Churches as being practically lost and completely blanked Alexandria which is one of the Oldest seats in Christian history. Somehow he moved from Syria to China also, without touching on the Indian Orthodox Tradition. Basically the episode on the Oriental Church it was far too vague.

Can anyone suggest some movies which actually show a positive portrayal of Christianity (and are not made by "the crazies?" such as Mel Gibson :lol: )
The only major one I can think of is the one Fr. Simon mentioned, Ostrov (the Island) is a beautiful little Russian movie about a monk and his search for redemption. Apart from this I am all out of ideas...


Zeffirelli's "Brother Sun, Sister Moon" - Severus - 31-05-2010 05:33 AM

Zeffirelli's 1972 film "Brother Sun, Sister Moon" (Fratello Sole, Sorella Luna) about the life of St. Francis is, in my opinion, still a delight. It traces the conversion of St. Francis and the early establishment of the Franciscan order. It is a very romanticised picture and Zeffirelli clearly wanted to draw parallels with the 1960s and 1970s worldwide hippie or "flower power" and anti Vietnam War generation. It even had some very folksy ballads sung by Donovan, so it is very much of its time. Nevertheless, the history is broadly sound and its message direct, although a bit simplistic. I knew of one Francisacan novice who went to see the film twenty-five times before his profession and he stayed the course until his death.

The rather surreal scenes when the scruffy Franciscans enter St. Peter's in Rome actually convey the feel of mediaeval liturgy and Alec Guiness as Pope Innocent III, although quintessentially English, is is quite splendid.

It is easy to sneer at the barefooted St. Francis skipping through the fields or St. Clare as a vision of loveliness viewed among the flowers, but at its heart the film does emphasise the desire for transcendence through selflessness and love.


- vrc - 31-05-2010 07:44 AM

I am not the world's biggest film-goer, so my range of knowledge is fairly limited, but I do remember watching a less romantic film than Brother Sun, Sister Moon (which I did see, and loved to bits), which was called The Mission, about a missionary going to Latin America a few hundred years ago, and all his tribulations and trials.

It was very moving, and the integrity of the missionary was never assailed. Classic FM often plays the soundtrack, so that's pretty good, too!

I believe that Umberto Eco's book, The Name of the Rose, was made into a film, but I can't remember most of it as I saw it a lo-o-o-ng time ago. A few scenes stick in my mind, e.g., a fascinating scriptorium in the monastery. Still, as it's a whodunnit, probably it's less than positive for Christianity.

Given that the Bible is so chock full of amazing stories, it's quite incredible that Hollywood is still looking for 'ideas, man, ideas', and 'noo writers' :wink:

Incidentally, although it's not about Christianity, the film 'Gladiator' really brought home to me what those Christian martyrs faced when they were marked out for lion fodder in the Coliseum. (As an aside, I have a book on Roman Mosaics in my library, with one plate showing a mosaic of a poor soul at the precise moment of meeting his earthly end by means of a tiger biting into his eye (prior to the rest of it....). Gruesome. Clearly, the designer of the mosaic had witnessed such a thing.)

I also remember a film with Robert Powell in 'Jesus of Nazareth', made by Zefirelli, dating back many moons, which was lovely. I have just googled that, and also seen there is a DVD of The Gospel of John (I've never seen that, but it sounds great).

I was interested in your points about Darmiud MacCulloch's series, and I suspect that, although he is a great Oxford professor, that TV-world budgets and constraints, editing to fit time-scales available, etc, probably played some part in its imperfections, but all in all, it was a very absorbing work. Only God is perfect.

For me, the important thing is that the Holy Spirit can use it, despite imperfections, to bring alive in me the stories, the histories, the messages; to vivify it into a living reality for my soul, to reach past any resistances and areas of void or misunderstanding and to draw me closer in to what it is all about, and to provide a wellspring for further thought and absorption in it all, for His purposes. If it's just words on a page, then it's just words on a page. If it's a living reality in my heart, perhaps partly sprung from those words or films or pictures or songs - into the point of Communion - well, that's quite different.

Different topic (slightly): I often wonder why Jesus never wrote anything down, himself. Or if he did, what happened to it all.


- John Charmley - 31-05-2010 10:00 AM

The 2005 film 'Into great silence' about the Carthusian Monastery of Grand Chartreuse, is well worth ,if you get the chance, as is the 2009 film 'No greater love' about the lives of Discalced Carmelite nuns in Notting Hill. I notice that another film about religion 'Of Gods and Men' has just won a prize at the Cannes Film Festival. It is about the murder of seven Cistercian monks in Algeria.

So there do seem to be some film which project a more positive view.

On 'Christianity', Dermot is, of course, an historian and nothing to do with the Oxford divinity school. He is an ex-Anglican whose view on Christianity is partly formed by being the son of a vicar, and partly by his being gay.

peace,

John


- DanielM - 31-05-2010 10:30 AM

[/quote= "John Charmley"
On 'Christianity', Dermot is, of course, an historian and nothing to do with the Oxford divinity school. He is an ex-Anglican whose view on Christianity is partly formed by being the son of a vicar, and partly by his being gay.

peace,

John[/quote]

Ah sorry, I miswrote this it seems, he is in part of the theology faculty for Oxford, not the school of Divinity. Funnily enough he used to be Head of the Theology faculty at Bristol university where I once attended a lecture from him on Christian history which thoroughly omitted anything to do with the Eastern and Oriental Churches after Constantine . I supose he keeps with that line of thought these days too. :lol:


- Fr Simon - 31-05-2010 11:51 AM

Another suggestion: Chariots of Fire - about one of my sporting heroes the great Eric Liddell, who refused to run in the 100 metres on a Sunday and won a gold in the 400 metres on a different day instead. I read a good paperback on him. When a prisoner in China where he went as a missionary he refused to referee a football match between other internees on a Sunday but I think it degenerated into a brawl so then he agreed. So though he was prepared to sacrifice Olympic glory because of his strong Christian convictions about the Lord's Day his Christian charity towards others was even stronger.