And then there are the ideas themselves. This is one of the few major motion pictures to dare to question the place of religion, any religion, and to come down on the side of rationality and reason, even as it seems to suggest that reason will usually lose out to the fundamentalist religion with the most adherents. On the surface, the movie is about Hypatia, a female teacher and scientist who lived in 4th century Alexandria, Egypt. Apparently, little is known about her, so the film fills in quite a few blanks (for example, positing that she was believer in a heliocentric view of the solar system), but the the real subject of the movie is the conflict of religions which swirled about her.
As the film beings, Roman Egypt is largely pagan, with the Christians kept down by the pagan authorities. We see Hypatia as a beloved teacher, and at least three of her male students have unrequited crushes on her. The religious battles (which Hypatia tries to stay out of) are taken to the streets, and soon the Christians get the upper hand and a large Christian mob raids the library at Alexandria, though Hypatia and her father, the curator of the library, manage to hide some of more important documents.
Fifteen years later, most of the pagans have converted to Christianity and the three men who loved Hypatia now hold important posts in either the church or the government. Now the battles brewing are between the Christians and the Jews, and sadly the rationality and questioning reasoning of Hypatia is no longer valued in the public arena (wait, this is set in the past, right?). Hypatia comes to a bad end, which is triggered when a church leader quotes from Paul about women belonging in submission to men, and that they should neither teach nor hold authority.
There is lots of dialogue and several plot strands to follow, but for the most part, they all remain clear and intriguing. The acting is fine, especially Rachel Weisz (far above) as Hypatia and Max Minghella (above) as a slave boy who takes a liking to her. The film cost $70 million and looks it--the use of CGI for backgrounds is subtle and well-done. The few times when it's not subtle, it is extremely cool: the camera swoops down from space and focuses in, Google-map style, on Alexandria. The message about religious intolerance is sadly timely still, and probably one reason why the film didn't do very well in the States (though it drew audiences in Europe); another reason is lack of big-name stars. There is also a certain lacking in character development; besides Hypatia, no one else becomes particularly interesting. But if you want a thoughtful entertainment with great production values, about a time in history which is not frequently examined in films (Hypatia's death and the destruction of the Library of Alexandria are marked by some historians as the beginning of the Dark Ages), this is right up your alley.