The Secret of Kells

The Secret of Kells (2009)

I’m not afraid to admit that I am a big fan of animation.I appreciate the skill that it takes to create a good, artistic animation, and  when coupled with a good story it can be hard to beat. I’ve watched the Secret of Kells several times now. At first I was somewhat disappointed, but it is growing on me. I seem to find more to appreciate each time I watch it.

Why a little disappointed on the first viewing? Well, the story seemed a little simple. I know that animations tend to have simple stories, but still for a full length movie it could have been a more detailed. I was rather aggravated at the vague and minor references to Christianity. They used the phrase “bringing light to the darkness” and that the book brings hope frequently. Well, it brings the light of Christ and Christ is also the hope. Yet, the name Christ is never uttered once (although the pagan fairy and Celtic god are mentioned by name). Yes, there is a cross in the courtyard of Kells and several references to “the faith” and prayer but Christianity is never specified. The abbot tells Brother Aidan that the people will measure the strength of their faith by the strength of their walls. Granted the abbot is supposed to be a misguided figure but they imply that art is hope or the answer, which in itself, it is not. They also directly say that the book is meant to be seen by all the people to bring them hope. I really doubt that many people saw the Book of Kells in the Middle Ages. It would have been kept in a church and probably only available to monks and the select people they allowed to see it.

There are things I liked about it. Much of the artwork was excellent. I’m sure there will be shots of it floating around medieval blogs for many years. Some aspects of book production and monastic life were pretty good. The stress put on ink production and the use of the lens by master illuminators (though an apprentice using it is more doubtful) was nice. In a world without eye glasses it seems like that some kind of crystal/lens would have been used by master artists, otherwise their careers would be over when they reached middle age.  The Columba scenes were cute, playing on all of the exaggerated legends that built up around figures like Columba.

There is a lot of symbolism throughout the work. I think you really have to watch it a couple of times and watch the bonus features to catch most of it. The multi-ethnic monks reflect the movement of monks around Christendom and Ireland’s attraction for monks from throughout the west. The artists comment that these monks represent the different influences in the book is good for symbolism but I think much of that influence came from looking at books produced elsewhere rather than the movement of monks.

The illuminators comments are interesting. It is good to know that I’m not the only one who thinks that Brother Aidan looks and sounds like Willie Nelson (though that was not their intention), and that parts of it remind me of Samurai Jack, especially the Viking scenes. I also thought there was a Mackintosh design influence, and the illuminators admitted to looking at Mackintosh artwork for inspiration. I noticed it particularly in the views of the forest from Kells.

Overall, I think it is a good movie. I’m sure I will watch it again and it will bring more interest to the Middle Ages. Unlike most medieval movies, the hero is not a warrior.  A movie about beauty and medieval artistry will help counter all the movies that show only death and destruction.


2 thoughts on “The Secret of Kells

  1. Great blog post! As I’m from Texas I can appreciate the Willie Nelson comparison. 🙂

  2. “I was rather aggravated at the vague and minor references to Christianity.”

    There is a time and place for everything… also personal preferences… so the very thing you are aggravated with? It’s fine by me 🙂

    Overall? Lovely movie 🙂

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