Blu-ray Review: “The Agony and the Ecstasy”


Review by Ann McDonald

The biographical story of Michelangelo’s troubles while painting the Sistine Chapel at the urging of Pope Julius II.

There is an intermission and a wonderful display of Michelangelo’s sculptures before this movie even begins and that helps set the stage for the conflict that takes up much of the film’s runtime. Pope Julius II (Rex Harrison) is a patron of the sculptor Michelangelo (Charlton Heston) and commissions him to design a tomb that is to stand in the Sistine Chapel but the pope changes his mind and tells him that he would like the ceiling painted with the twelve apostles. An argument ensues between the two men with Michelangelo adamantly stating that he is a sculptor and not a painter but he needs the commission and reluctantly begins.

There is a very good background here, a wealth of of material to keep your eyes happy, including the mountain quarry where the marble was taken from for all the famous pieces. However, things are not going well with Michelangelo, the paintings are not doing it for him and in a fit of pique, he damages the paintings and takes off to the mountains. Pope Julius hears about it and demands he be arrested but then he heads off to war and his soldiers hunt the painter down. He eventually finds inspiration and returns to Julius, asking to finish the ceiling which he allows and then his work really begins.

There is an abundance of words that could have been put into this movie to make it great but sadly, the dialogue overall, was awful. I couldn’t understand with all the talent that resided in Hollywood at the time, how this was so poorly scripted. Rex Harrison basically played himself and Charlton Heston either couldn’t or misunderstood the character he was playing and to call him stoic would be too kind. The entire movie is resolved and the beauty of the Sistine ceiling literally takes your breath away. The sets and backgrounds are very well produced and are very elegant. It has stood the test of time because beauty is beauty.

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Ann McDonald

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