Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Mad Props for The Secret of Kells

I had never heard of The Secret of Kells until it was nominated for an Academy Award a few months ago, but I have been eagerly waiting for it to play here in town ever since. I just can’t recommend this film highly enough. Everyone in my group, ages 10 – 67, loved it.

It is so beautiful.

The hand drawn animation is based on Irish art, but also manages to remind me of Samurai Jack, of blessed memory. All I can say is vive la 2-D! I am pretty sure that if I saw this film in Greek without subtitles I still would have loved watching the images. It is fluid and graceful: no portion of the screen is boring and it is 100 times more entertaining than Avatar.

The film is about a boy named Brenden living in the monastery of Kells in the Middle Ages and the creation and preservation of the famous Book of Kells, but really, plot is not what compels this movie. In fact, a few of the plot points towards the end of the film felt a little rushed and I wished they had been developed a little more. This film, full of beautiful imagery, is about imagery and its power. It stresses the importance of beauty and imagination and faith in the most dreary and dangerous of worlds.

If you are at all interested in Irish history, celtic myth, the history of the medieval church, the role of art and faith, syncreticism, or pretty pictures than this film is for you. Maybe if you are a big fan of Vikings, not so much.

The portrayal of the rival religions in Ireland was balanced: neither one was the bad or the good faith. Both religious systems were given a point of view and both had sympathetic and scary/dictatorial aspects. Pagan magic is delightfully represented by the fey girl Aisling and is treated as no less real than anything else in the film, but Cromm Cruach shows a dark and scary aspect of the same pagan belief system. The Christian monks are shown as trying to hold onto the light of their civilization against a violent force who wants to wipe them out, but the Abbot is rigid and has forgotten the art and joy of his youth and tries to block out the outside world. Brother Aidan is an example of the Irish style of Christianity that stressed reverence of nature more than the fear of God.

My girls loved this movie enough to insist we buy the soundtrack as soon as we got home. They have never done that before. Though it chagrins their mother and grandmother, they are not in general fans of traditional Irish music, and yet we will be listening to the soundtrack tonight while I cook dinner.

The Secret of Kells would be a great film to show in RE, but it might be too scary for very little children. It could be a great spring board for discussing how religions effect and influence each other, when and why should be listen to authority, how to we respond to outside dangers while still preserving what is important about ourselves, the relative importance of symbols , what is worth dying for, and I’m sure other great topics that haven’t occurred to me.

I almost never buy DVD’s anymore, preferring to keep my collection in the Netflix cloud, but this one I will buy as soon as it available. Maybe we will make it our new St. Patrick’s Day tradition as it is much more thought provoking than Darby O’Gill. Slainte.


  1. It's at the Bear Tooth at 5:30 through Thursday. You can see it and still support a local business.

  2. Hey, thanks for the kind words! Glad we could bring the film to AK. To find out more check out Secret of Kells FB page.