The Secret of Kells Review Picture


"The Secret of Kells" is a French-Belgian-Irish animated film released in 2009. The story of this film is a fictionalized account of the creation of the Book of Kells; an illuminated Gospel book written in Latin which contains the four Gospels of the New Testament. The movie is a delightful tale which blends history, mythology, and symbolism into an eye-popping feast for the soul.

This movie sports a rather colorful cast of characters who are as amusing as some of them are stereotypical. The diversity and spirited nature of the characters fills the story with a charming childlike warmth, and the humor some of the side characters provide helps to offset some of the more serious themes presented throughout the plot. It's such a shame most of them die come the dramatic climax.

One thing which I found quite interesting in this story was the overall disposition of Brendan's uncle, Abbot Cellach. From my experience dealing with "holy people" the Abbot of this tale has to be the most secular clergyman I've ever seen. He definitely doesn't strike me as a man of much faith, in fact, you could almost argue he has a severe lack of faith. Where many religious folk I've encountered put an overwhelming degree of faith in their "God" to protect them from all dangers, this dude is overcome with fear, and that fear is redirected into an unyielding obsession with fortifing the walls of his Abbey to try and keep out the vikings...a noble diligent effort which fails horribly.

The conflict between the Abbot's fear-driven obsession and his fellow clergymen's artistry could be seen as a symbolic struggle between primal fear and instinct against rationality and enlightenment. While the Abbot concerns himself with building a wall to lock the outside world out and his people in, his fellow clergymen strive to create books to illuminate the darkness of the world; for as they state early in the film "If there were no books all knowledge would be lost for eternity". Books give the world hope and enlightenment; through books beauty and knowledge can be spread around the world down through the ages.

Another similar sort of contrast I noticed lies in the unlikely friendship between Brendan and Aisling. Where Brendan is clearly Christian, Aisling being a fairy living in the forest may be seen as a symbolism for Druidism; she is even presented in a fashion which is very druidic (she's certainly not the cliche depiction we usually see of fairies in most fantasy movies). Their friendship portrays a tasteful symbolic union between two different faiths and lifestyles coming together on mutual terms of good will and compassion; a union from which both children learn from each other and grow stronger and wiser. It helps too that they are indeed children (though Aisling is likely hundreds of years old) and as such have not yet formulated the narrow-minded biases people generally adapt come their adulthood. This friendship gives rise to a touching display of love and loyalty best portrayed by my favorite part of the film; when Aisling sings and uses her magic to turn Pangur Bán into a spirit in order to steal the key from the Abbot's room to free certainly pays to have a fairy for a friend!

Yet another contrasting theme I notice embodied in this film is the contrast between the vikings' lust for greed and destruction and the clergymen's passion for art and creating beauty. And while on the topic of destruction versus creation, how ironic is it that the eye of Collum-Cille which is essential for the completion of the book was originally the eye of the devil god, Crom Cruach? For those who don't know, Crom Cruach was a pre-Christian Irish deity who was heavily associated with human sacrifice. Many depictions of Crom (especially in pop culture) portray him as a large serpent or wormlike beast, and I love how this movie's adaptation seems to pay subtle homage to the possible meaning of the creature's name. Crom's name is interpreted to mean something crooked or bent, and the filmmakers provide a subtle nod to this by depicting Crom as an astral serpent who's body bends at complete 90 degree angles as he moves. Heck, even the final battle between Brendan and Crom is a symbolic conflict between creation and destruction. When Brendan faces Crom in his lair in the Spirit World he uses his artistic talents and imagination to defeat the creature; ultimately leaving Crom to destroy himself in a fit of literal blind rage.

The thing I love most about this movie is the beautious art style and animation; not simply the look of the characters mind you, but the spectacular detail and color of the background and environments; the intricate patterns and shapes that adorn this movie throughout set my young heart on fire. It's a little bit like looking at an animated storybook. The only other animated masterpiece I've seen with art and animation so grand was in "The Thief and the Cobbler" which was released nearly 20 years earlier; a very underrated animated masterpiece with artistic designs every bit as marvelous as the ones I see in this film. This stands to reason of course, for as I found in my research, the filmmakers took inspiration from Richard Williams' "The Thief and the Cobbler" as well as Disney's Mulan and Studio Ghibli.

This movie is just filled with beautiful poetic symbolism! It's like the story was written by a novelist first before it was animated. This is what happens when you blend mind-blowing artistic craftsmanship with stellar storywritting. Truly we need more magnificent gems like this one, for animation these days has become plagued with a flood of unimpassioned trivialing tripe!
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