Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Secret of Kells

The Secret of Kells.

Me: First of all, I am kind of biased towards Irish stories and tales relating to Ireland, so The Secret of Kells obviously plays towards that. But it was also nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Feature, so I think that shows that it is probably at least a quality flick beyond just my biases.

The story tells about the creation of the Book of Kells, which is a real thing even though the story is obviously steeped in fantasy. The Book of Kells is probably considered to be one of Ireland's greatest national treasures. The Book of Kells is a collection of four Gospels that was created by Celtic monks in the 8th or 9th century. What is particularly remarkable about the book, however, is the Insular art that makes it up. Take almost any art history course and you'll find out about Insular art. However, most art history courses are also so fucking dull that there is a fair chance that you will not recall it anyway. But it truly is a remarkable style of script and artwork that is just absolutely amazing to see, especially when you consider the pains it took to make in the 8th century.

For a story about the Book of Kells, which is a collection of Gospels, there is not a direct or overt mention of Christianity. In fact, other than the few visual references to Celtic Crosses in the village, there is not a real mention at all. Really, you probably need to know about the Book of Kells to realize the connection to religion. In the movie, they talk about the power of books and knowledge, but don't reference what the book they are working on is about. Personally, I like this take. It makes the movie accessible for non-Christians without being preachy, but the message takes on a deeper meaning for those who are Christian and realize that they are working on an Insular copy of the Gospels.

Anyhow, the story revolves around Brendon, a young boy in the abbey of Kells. He is orphaned, but raised by his uncle, the Abbot of Kells. The Abbot fears that Kells will be attacked by the Norsemen (who historically raided Ireland during this time, and really did violate and almost destroy the real Book of Kells) and he has become obsessed with building a wall around the city to protect it from the outside world. This, of course, is a metaphor for the rigid beliefs and the wall the Abbot has built around himself and other ideas.

The wall is a real boundary between the Abbot's village of Kells and the forest outside that is still filled with lush Celtic mythological creatures, including at least one faerie. The wall also serves as a metaphoric boundary between the Abbot's strict beliefs and the pagan culture that surrounds them, keeping a hard line between them with no overlapping.

Brother Aidan arrives at Kells and carried with him the uncompleted manual that will eventually become the Book of Kells. Brendon, who against his uncles desires has always been fascinated with books and the scriptorium, quickly takes to Brother Aidan and the wonder and beauty that the book shows. He wants to help Brother Aidan complete the book, though his uncle only wants him to focus on the practical of building the wall.

Anyhow, Brendon ventures out into the forest twice to help Brother Aidan and along the way he meets a faerie wolf-spirit named Aisling who introduces him to a world outside of the abbey's walls and the wonder that is in it. With Aisling's help, Brendon first collects berries to make ink and then later gets a scrying glass to help make the Insular art from a terrible mythological beast.

Brother Aidan serves as a medium for Brendon, showing a way to embrace both worlds. He still ultimately shares the same goals as the Abbot's beliefs, but he shows that there is a way beyond the rigid walls of Kells.

Kells is attacked by Norsemen and Brendon and Aidan escape, ultimately completing the book on their own before Brendon returns to Kells years later to be reunited with his uncle on his deathbed, who has come to see the power in Aidan and Brendon's way.

The story is a little simplistic in the telling, but the broad brushes that it is painted with do not matter. For those who know what the Book of Kells really is, it is about spreading the Gospels. However, for those who do not know it's real-life history, the movie never says anything further than spreading knowledge through books. I liked this approach.

But really what makes the movie a gem is the fact that it is beautiful. The movie is absolutely gorgeous. The artwork is stylistic and beautiful. The soundtrack is not overbearing, but it is beautiful. I especially like Aisling's song that she used to turn Aidan's cat into a spirit to steal a key (and this serves as a mental note to myself to try to find that song to download onto my iPod later).

The visuals are fantastic and there is a stark contrast in some of them. The lush flowing curved lines and bright colors of the forest and people of Kells are contrasted by the rigid lines of the dark Norsemen who attack. Their voices are modulated as well, making them seem more the vicious invader in sight and sound in the movie. And when Brendon fights to Celtic monster, the visuals once again change to represent the alien nature of the beast.

One of the most fascinating things to me is that such a simple, beautiful style of artwork in the movie is used to tell the story of the deep, detail and full style of Insular art in the Book of Kells.

It truly is a beautiful thing to watch. Animation like this is hard to find these days in a world of Disney, Dreamworks and Pixar, but when you see it, you really realize what we are missing today in animated movies: art.

Molly: (As usual, I will be transcribing as much as I can from what she says. We're at a computer and I'm typing up what we are saying as we speak, then going back afterwards to format it. Her review will be in a Q&A form, due to her age. She's sitting next to me at my computer as we do this.)

Chuckie: What did you think of the movie, The Secret of Kells?
Molly: Um, the wolf. No, Daddy, the girl wolf.
Chuckie: What about her?
Molly: She turns into a wolf.

Chuckie: Did you like the movie, Pixie?
Molly: Yeah.

Chuckie: What was your favorite part of the movie?
Molly: My best favorite part?
Chuckie: Yeah.
Molly: Um, um, um... the one that showed him her forest.

Chuckie: What did you like about that part?
Molly: That the picking berries was stinky. P.U.! (Looking at a couple of Heroscape figures that I have on my desk and haven't gotten around to putting away yet.) Hey, Daddy, are these bad guys?
Chuckie: Um, yeah.
Molly: (Picking up the spiders and aligning them against the orc rider on a wolf figure.) I'm pretending that these are good guys and this one is bad. (Holding up one of the spiders to threaten the wolf-rider.) I'm going to fight you, bad guy! (A small skirmish takes place on my desk as the spiders attack and knock over the wolf-rider.)

Chuckie: Okay, Pixie, let's finish the review first. So, what was the movie about?
Molly: They were trying to fight the monster so they could get his eye and the monster could eat himself up.

Chuckie: Why were they trying to get the eye from the monster, Sweetie?
Molly: For the man.

Chuckie: What did the man want with it?
Molly: The book. He wanted to write in it. And the cat liked him. He liked the other boy frist, then he liked the dad. What's wrong with that funny kitty cat? They wanted to write in the book so everyone could read it because that way people learn things from books.

Chuckie: Was there anything that you didn't like about the movie?
Molly: The wolves. (Drawing out the first part of "wolves" to make it sound like a howl.) The wooooooooo-lves. The bad ones. Not the good one. Awoooooooo! I'm calling the mommy wolves so the baby wolves can come. Hey, can they hear me? Awooooooooo! Hey, why aren't they coming? I can't hear their feet. I'm going to check outside. (Molly stands up and lifts the blinds to the window next to my desk and our cat, Untini, is there. This startles Molly who lets out a loud surprised noise.) Ah! Utini sacred me! (She starts to laugh at herself being startled.) Utini, I didn't say "meow", I said "Awoooooo"!

Chuckie: What did you think about Brendon?
Molly: I want to talk about the other boy. The one that was his brother.

Chuckie: Which one?
Molly: He had a lot of brothers. (I think Molly is a little confused here since Brendon was an only child, but since they were all at an abbey, they referred to everyone as "Brother".) I mean, the one that had the crystal. (holds her hand up to her eye, as if looking through a crystal in her hand, like Brother Aidan did when writing.)

Chuckie: What about him?
Molly: Daddy, what I liked about it... I liked the whole story of it.

Chuckie: What about the faerie girl?
Molly: I liked her. At the ending, I liked about her that all that she did. She helped him climb trees. And she turned the cat into... (takes on a quiet stage-whispered tone, sounding a little like the character did in the movie at times as she waves her hand in rising circles.) ...flies... flies... flies...

Chuckie: Why did she do that to the cat?
Molly: So her can get the key. She used... (takes on that whispered tone again.) ...faerie magic.

Chuckie: Why are you whispering it, Pixie?
Molly: Because... it's a secret from the wolves. Awooooooooo! Let me check outside. (She moves to the window again and looks outside.)

Chuckie: Anything yet?
Molly: Nope. Not yet. No wolves. Oh, man! Darn.

Chuckie: Was the movie too scary?
Molly: Yeah, at parts.

Chuckie: What parts, Sweetie?
Molly: Um, the northmen were scary.

Chuckie: What was scary about the Norsemen?
Molly: That they fight the daddy and him and him died. Then him waked up because he wasn't really dead.

Chuckie: So, how would you rate the movie?
Molly: Um I want to give the things out now. I want to give it twenty stars.
Chuckie: Out of how many?
Molly: Out of six.

Chuckie: You know you gave it more starts than you said it was out of, right?
Molly: I know. I have to say it like that so that the wolves will come. Daddy, did you know that wolves don't die unless you kill them?
Chuckie: I was unaware of that.
Molly: (Matter-of-factly) Yeah. It's true. Awoooooooo! Oh, and a big number, Daddy. Twenty-sixty moons.

Chuckie: Twenty-sixty moons?
Molly: Out of sixty. And twenty-sixty-twenty suns. Out of six.

Chuckie: Do you think people will like this movie?
Molly: Yes, everyone will like it, Daddy.

Chuckie: Who do you think would like this movie?
Molly: The best?
Chuckie: Yes, Sweetie.
Molly: Um, Edison and Mason. And all of the brothers. Um, but not my wolves. Only people. Only kids and babies and mommies and daddies. But me and my wolves are going to watch another movie. Awoooooooo!

Chuckie: What movies are you and your wolves going to watch?
Molly: Um. "Glee". The one where Lady Gaga. Edison likes that.

Chuckie: Is there anything else that you want to tell people about the movie, Sweetie?
Molly: Um, I don't know. They might like it. Who knows?
Chuckie: (Laughs because that is probably the most honest line I've ever heard in a movie review.)

So, that's our review. I thought the movie was good. The story is simple, but the story telling is absolutely incredible. What makes the movie, however, is the visuals. It is an artistic masterpiece. While the story is good, the movie could still be appreciated with the sound off. The visuals are that compelling. The religious tones of the Book of Kells are minimalized in the movie, making it fully accessible to all, though the rigid walls built between pagan myths and rigid spirituality are still there in physical and metaphoric form. I highly recommend this movie.

I give it four and a half out of five stars, and I highly suggest it for anyone who likes the beauty of true animation, which is unfortunately a lost art form these days.
Molly gives it twenty out of six stars, twenty-sixty out of sixty moons and twenty-sixty-twenty out of six suns. She also suggests that Edison and Mason see it as well as any Brothers in abbots. However, if you are a wolf, you'd be better off watching a repeat of the Lady Gaga episode of "Glee" instead.

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