Agora -- death of a woman, and a world
The film takes some liberties with the details of historical events, but captures very well the atmosphere of the time -- the atmosphere of a civilization in inexorable decline toward collapse and barbarism. The Roman Empire still ruled the Mediterranean basin including Egypt, but its glory days were long past. The government was already officially Christian, and the new religion was spreading rapidly, including in Alexandria.
Hypatia was a philosopher and, as the film stresses, a teacher, specializing in astronomy and geometry. Her investigation and speculation on the structure of the solar system exemplified the free-thinking and evidence-based approach at the root of both Classical and modern science. At one point, she uses a simple experiment involving a ship and a dropped weight to refute an argument that the Earth cannot be moving. In the thousand years of darkness that followed the fall of the Classical world, truth would be sought by consulting sacred texts, not by observation and experiment.
In the end, she became a casualty of a struggle for power between Cyril (Sami Samir), the Christian Bishop of Alexandria, and Orestes (Oscar Isaac), the Prefect (governor) of Egypt, exemplifying the clash between the declining Roman civil authority and the rising power of the Christian religion. Orestes had been a student of Hypatia's, and still sought her advice at times. In this scene, Cyril uses a reading from the Bible to challenge Orestes:
A scene which was deleted but is on the DVD shows militant monks patrolling the streets and harassing "immodestly dressed" women, like the Saudi Mutawa or Iran's Basij. But the film does not whitewash paganism. In one scene, a pagan rabble-rouser whips up a crowd to attack Christians who have insulted the pagan gods; in another, Theon (shaken after witnessing a brutal killing by Christians) flogs one of his slaves who he has discovered is secretly a Christian. There are also scenes of mob violence between Christians and Jews, with brutalities on both sides. The point is that the Classical civilization was disintegrating in religious violence and fanaticism, while the declining Roman state was losing its power to perform the first duty of the state -- maintaining law and order.
Hypatia was murdered by a Christian mob, hacked to death with what a historian described as "oyster shells", in fact probably sharp pottery shards or roofing tiles (the film replaces this with stoning). In the film, a sympathetic Christian spares her the worst by strangling her beforehand; in fact, there's no evidence that such a mercy happened.
The film speculates that before her death, Hypatia deduced that the Earth's orbit around the Sun is elliptical rather than perfectly circular, the discovery then being lost until Kepler made the same deduction 1,200 years later. In fact, we don't know what she was working on when she was killed, and none of her own writings have survived; but given her interest in conic sections and astronomy, and the great insights attributed to her by her contemporaries, it's not an unreasonable guess.
I found the film disturbing at times, not only because of the relentless brutality and destruction, but because of the tragic quality of the senescence and imminent death of a great civilization. The fact that a thousand years later the Renaissance would rediscover the Classical world's achievements, and build on them to make further progress, would have been little comfort to thinkers such as Hypatia even if they had known. But the film achieves what it sets out to do. This is what that era must really have been like.