The Agony and the Ecstasy (film)

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The Agony and the Ecstasy
File:Agony and the Ecstasy 1965.jpg
Theatrical release poster by Howard Terpning
Directed by Carol Reed
Produced by Carol Reed
Written by screenplay by
Philip Dunne
Carol Reed
from the novel by
Irving Stone
Starring Charlton Heston
Rex Harrison
Diane Cilento
Harry Andrews
Alberto Lupo
Music by Jerry Goldsmith
Alex North
Cinematography Leon Shamroy
Edited by Samuel E. Beetley
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release dates
  • October 7, 1965 (1965-10-07)
Running time
138 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $7,175,000[1]
Box office $8,000,000[2]

The Agony and the Ecstasy is a 1965 American film directed by Carol Reed, starring Charlton Heston as Michelangelo and Rex Harrison as Pope Julius II. The film was partly based on Irving Stone's biographical novel of the same name. This film deals with the conflicts of Michelangelo and Pope Julius II during the painting of the Sistine Chapel's ceiling. It also features a soundtrack co-written by prolific composers Alex North and Jerry Goldsmith.[3]

The film was shot in Todd-AO and Cinemascope versions. The Todd-AO version was used for the DVD release because of its superior picture quality.


Michelangelo Buonarroti, a sculptor from Florence, is first commissioned to craft the Pope's tomb in Rome. Instead, Pope Julius II orders him to paint frescoes on the Sistine Chapel ceiling depicting the Twelve Apostles. After his first attempt at painting the Apostles, he destroys his work and flees to Carrara to quarry Carrara marble. He evades the pope's guard and flees into the mountains, where he becomes inspired.

On a battlefield, Michelangelo convinces the Pope to change the grand design and paint not just the panels of the ceiling, but the entire vault. The work proceeds nonstop, even with mass in session. Months turn to years. Michelangelo is accused of blasphemy and heresy by portraying Pagan symbols and myths, but is allowed to continue. Buonarroti suffers from blindness as a result of paint poisoning, and fatigue from overwork. While recovering, the Pope's architect Donato Bramante pressures the Pope to use Raphael to finish the ceiling. But Michelangelo garners the strength to continue. Meanwhile, the Pope's army is threatened by French and German forces, and Cardinals recommend fleeing Rome to safer territory. The painting scaffolds are torn down, and the commission is given to Raphael. Insulted and beaten, Michelangelo packs for Florence. Raphael, impressed with the work done, pleads with Buonarroti to finish his work. Contessina de'Medici, a former lover, convinces Buonarroti to beg the Pope for the commission again. A battle-bruised Pope is convinced a sacking of Rome is in order, but gives permission to continue painting.

Late at night in Rome, a war-torn and ailing Pope criticizes the images of God and Man (in The Creation of Adam), claiming they are too serene. The Pope becomes bedridden, and denies a request to stop painting the chapel ceiling. The conclusion is a Mass where the congregation is shown the completed ceiling. After the congregation leaves, the Pope offers Michelangelo work on painting the lower walls, but seeing his own life fading, the Pope rescinds and asks him to complete the tomb.



The re-creation of the Sistine Chapel ceiling for the film was largely by the Irish painter Niccolo d'Ardia Caracciolo.


The film was nominated for five Academy Awards:[4][5]

It was nominated for two Golden Globe awards:

  • Best Actor (Rex Harrison)
  • Best Screenplay (Philip Dunne)

It won two awards from the National Board of Review:

  • Best Supporting Actor (Harry Andrews)
  • One the Year's 10 Best

It won the Best Foreign Film from the David di Donatello Awards.

See also


  1. Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p254
  2. "The Agony and the Ecstasy, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved January 22, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Clemmensen, Christian. Jerry Goldsmith (1929-2004) tribute at Retrieved 2011-04-14.
  4. "The 38th Academy Awards (1966) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-08-24.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "NY Times: The Agony and the Ecstasy". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-12-26.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links