The Agony and the Ecstasy

In this bloated movie, there is a great one-hour film about how Michelangelo butted heads with the Pope to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling.
Our Rating

Genre(s): Drama

Director: Carol Reed

Actors: Charlton Heston, Rex Harrison, Diane Cilento, Harry Andrews, Alberto Lupo

Year: 1965

MPAA Rating: NR

Country: USA

Michelangelo Buonarroti (Charlton Heston) was already pretty much a rock star (or shall I say marble star… wah wah!) of his day, as he was kept perfectly busy with his commissions of sculptures, including the job of creating the Pope’s tomb in Rome. Pope Julius II (Rex Harrison) can’t seem to make up his mind what he wants done first (after all, the 40 statues for the tomb will take, what, 4 years each to create?) so he asks Michelangelo to paint frescos on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Before Michelangelo can bellow, “I’m a sculptor, not a painter!” the commission is set (because, really, are you allowed to say no to the Pope?).

Michelangelo is kind of a tough guy to employ. He starts his work, flips out and destroys it, then leaves town. By the time the Pope find him, hiding in the mountains where marble is taken from quarries, the Pope is pissed. Oh, but Michelangelo got a really good idea from staring at the clouds! Here, Pope, let me show you this sketch of the 12 Apostles which a battle rages around you.

I really liked the art aspect of The Agony and the Ecstasy. From the marble quarry, to the scaffolding, to the punching holes in paper, then powdering those templates onto the ceiling… this part of the film was fascinating. It was also interesting to notice that since this film was created in 1965, that Michelangelo’s fresco colors are dark and murky, browns and blacks and greys. Since then, of course, the real ceiling has been restored to its original bright colors, making the one in the film look glum and dirty.

The drama in the film, however, is a bit snoozy, making it feel like time-filler to the meat of the story. There of course has to be a chick in the film, so Diane Cilento shows up as Contessina de’Medici. She is just there long enough to try to make out with Michelangelo, to show that he has no time for the ladies (or, a 1960s way of veering from the topic that the real man was probably gay). Heston broods a lot, and overacts whenever given the chance. His thespian skills are simply not a match for Harrison, who has a field day as Julius, the “Warrior Pope”. Oh, and did I mention that the first solid 15 minutes of the film is a full-on, classroom-style documentary introduction about the artist and his sculptures? I felt like I was about to fall asleep while watching a filmstrip in class.

The Agony and the Ecstasy would have been a really hour-long movie. Instead, there are definitely moments of this 138 minute film that can be skipped.


The Blu-ray just has a couple of trailers. That’s it!


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