With St. Patrick’s Day only a few days away, I thought I would recommend a film set in Ireland. So if you are wondering what to watch as you settle down with a slab of corned beef and a hunk of soda bread, look no further! This film is a feast for the eyes and the mind…
The Secret of Kells, recipient of a 2010 Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature, is one of those lovely films that sets itself apart from the majority of commercial animated fare, fitting into its own category as a sort of cinematic literature…and it is certainly not only for children. The film explores Celtic mythology and history as it interweaves the history of illuminated manuscripts, the famed Book of Kells, and the medieval threat of barbarians with Irish lore of fairies and dark mysteries in the forest.
The film follows Brendan’s discovery of the enchantment of the natural world and the secrets of an unfinished illuminated book as he navigates the conflict that surrounds him. Although Brendan encounters an array of conflicts (good vs. evil, light vs. dark, preservation vs. perseverance, man vs. nature, to name a few), the core of the film is its celebration and exploration of the illumination that Brendan is ultimately questing after. The Book of Kells represents the light of faith and hope and imagination that many medieval abbeys fought to preserve in a world threatened by the darkness the barbarians would bring if they succeeded in quenching the lights of learning and the illuminated Gospels.
The hand-drawn animation plays upon the theme of illumination while paying tribute to the intricately detailed illuminated manuscripts that inspired its style. Every scene set in the forest is teeming with life and hidden patterns. Sunlight flickers down through treetops and clouds and dapples the world beneath. Designs and patterns are hidden in almost every scene while intricately moving borders adorn and further develop many others. I was often tempted to simply pause my DVD for the chance to absorb the many dimensions of light and color and detail in a scene.
Bruno Coulais, the French composer behind several other whimsical and wonderful scores (Coraline, Babies, The Chorus), provides an alternately lively and subtle soundtrack that adds yet another layer of delight to the film.
I meant for this to be a simple recommendation, but I got a bit carried away. Suffice it to say, The Secret of Kells is ultimately a richly historical and truly illuminating film that is exquisitely textured, both visually and thematically.
Image found here.