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The Secret of Kells (2009)

The first time I saw The Secret of Kells I was entirely wrapped up its stunning visuals. Now this isn’t hard to do as you can see in the above trailer: in glorious 2D the animation has a beautiful fluidity and its vibrant colors are easy to be distracted by. Though I wish its story could outshine its art, there’s definitely more to The Secret of Kells than meets the eye.

The story is about a young boy named Brendan who dreams of becoming a scribe and lives in a small monastic village governed by his strict uncle, Cellach. When a monk fleeing from invading warriors brings the mystical and unfinished Book of Kells to the village, Brendan struggles to show Cellach what’s important in the face of their destruction.

The beautiful thing about the film is its ability to transform the main plot point of Brendan’s work as a scribe into an artistic theme. The lines of the animation have a natural grace to them. And all that Da Vinci Code jargon about the Fibonacci sequence and the patterns that occur throughout nature? The animators ran with that idea as they drew the boundless forests and delicate vall outside of Brendan’s village. You can tell how influential medieval texts were to the animators as they use the strange lack of perspective in the composition of the characters and their settings. Scale shifts and space contorts, but it just strengthens the importance of the art to the characters. Brendan’s enthusiasm for the art of script goes past just plot and beautifully extends into the very presentation of the film.

With that said, the next thing to discuss is, of course, the story. Here the film gets a little blurry. On top of everything else happening in the plot, there’s also Aisling, a forest sprite Brendan meets while walking in the woods outside the village. Aisling risks her life to help Brendan in his attempt to finish the magical Book of Kells. Now this sounds a little out of place, right? And it kind of is. Aisling, while providing a great excuse for some artistic agility for the animators, is actually a distraction from the main story of the movie. I almost wish the plot incorporated her into the main story more so there’d be more of a reason for such an otherworldly and endearing character.

But this aside, the movie in the end is about faith and the ways we express it. Is it better realized in the stone fortresses we build to protect or when a single story of its power lives on in another person? Watching Brendan’s stern and stubborn uncle experience both options is sad but poignantly satisfying by the end of the film. It’s a deep and intriguing question that is fairly well executed, though it might take a second viewing to see it clearly.

In the end, Kells is a gorgeous movie and though it could use some streamlining in its plot, is definitely worth a watch. You’ll start watching for the animation and might end up moved by its story as well.

  • For me, I say to The Secret of Kells, “That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.”

– Aquisha

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