Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

The Secret of Kells

Sunday the 13th, we went to the Oriental Theatre to see the animated
movie "The Secret of Kells". This is an unusual type of movie for
today, not only using hand-drawn character designs, but also a very
stylized 2-D design throughout. Nevertheless, it is a very beautiful
movie and the artistic decisions make for fascinating viewing, as well
as lending significant emotional emphasis to the action.
The story is set in and around the monastery of Kells, in Ireland,
somewhat after 814, when the Abbot Cellach retired from the monastery of
Iona, and came to Kells. In the movie, Cellach (voice by Brendan
Gleeson) has been deeply traumatized by the Viking raids on Iona, and is
obsessed with protecting Kells to the extent that he has set aside more
spiritual pursuits in favor of building an enormous curtain wall around
the monastery and its village, and insists, with mixed success, in the
other monks and villagers doing likewise. One of the people not
enthusiastic about his plans is his young nephew, Brendan (Evan
McGuire), who is more interested in the art of illuminating manuscripts
than in hauling stones, and chafes under his uncle's neurotic
restrictions that he not leave the monastery grounds.
Things become more tense with the arrival of Bother Aidan, the scribe
(Mick Lally), who brings new of new raids on Iona and the monastery's
great treasure, a magnificently illuminated book, supposedly begun by
St. Columba, the founder of both monasteries, but not yet completed.
(Even irreligious as I am, I was annoyed that no one ever mentions what
the book is (the Gospels), other than a gorgeous collection of
illuminations, although it is rumored to have holy powers.) Aidan (who,
along with his cat, Pangur Ban, is known to have existed also) not only
fuels Cellach's obsession with his news, but fires Brendan's interest in
illumination, teaching him, and inspiring him to explore the forest,
where he meets Aisling, a fairy/forest spirit (Christen Mooney). I
won't go into how all these threads, under the growing shadow of the
demonic Northmen, play out, but suffice to say that it is a beautifully
rendered but tragic story.
There is much very good in the presentation, ranging from the
cosmopolitan makeup of the Kells monks and the joy they find in their
community when not overshadowed by Cellach, to the pants-wearing sprite
Aisling, who, in a nice touch, is given the voice of a common Irish
child rather than the "posh" accents that elves so often get. The
drawing style flows from simple cartooning to near-Kells level
illuminations, such as in the sequence of Brendan's spiritual and
physical struggle with the barrow-dwelling "Crom Cruach." Purists may
well cavil at the introduction of fairies and mystical serpents into the
production of the famous Christian artifacts, but it makes a good story
and adds to the drama.
All in all, a very attractive and interesting movie, with much to say
about Art and Life. Suitable for all ages, although the scenes of the
Northmen's raids are quite intense and could be frightening for the

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