Year: 2010
Production Co: Mod Productions
Director: Alejandro Amenábar
Writer: Alejandro Amenábar/Mateo Gil
Cast: Rachel Weisz, Max Minghella, Oscar Isaac

I hadn't seen anything by Amenabar since Vanilla Sky, and without having seen Open Your Eyes before it I might have written him off as another helmer for hire in the continuing Look How Great I Am Show with Tom Cruise.

But he brings a sense of huge scale as well as tiny personal detail to this story of love and political upheaval. If nothing else it shows than in almost two thousand years we haven't moved on in the least when it comes to religious tolerance.

Everyone seems content in Roman Alexandria during the early rise of Christianity. Philosopher Hypatia (Weisz, beautiful and talented as ever) tries to engage the minds of her students while she herself struggles with figuring out the path of the planets amid the night sky, all the time with no idea that the slave boy (Minghella) who attends her so tenderly is desperately in love with her.

But storm clouds are building, and when scuffles in the square become full-scale civil war between the pagans and Christians, the great library is sacked and mostly destroyed, the former fount of all human knowledge reduced to pens for farm animals.

A few years later and Hypatia is still struggling with her observations, her optimism contagious among her former students. But one, Orestes (Isaac) is now the Roman prefect and former slave Davus is a free man and Christian, struggling with his new faith and the conflict it seems to present to his feelings for his former mistress.

It's all played out against the rise of the fearsome Christian bishop who, having successfully run the Jews out of town, now means to unseat the prefecture of Orestes and rule Alexandria himself. Orestes' continued respect for Hypatia becomes the Christians' greatest weapon and even though you hope nothing nasty happens to her Christians have never taken highly to women with a voice, and they certainly didn't then.

The strong performances and forceful plotting are matched by some astounding CGI photography. The detail in several long tracking shots of Alexandria is good enough, but there are a couple of Google Earth-like zooms from right out in space, zeroing in on Egypt, then the city and right up to a single window. They blow your mind not just because of their technical artistry but the sense they give you that no matter how important the concerns of the epoch are, we're all just ants crawling around on tiny stretches of sand.

Great entertainment stitched to some interesting history and great filmmaking craft.

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