Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Secret of Kells

Recently my wife came home with the DVD The Secret of Kells.  This was a joint French-Irish production of an animated film that came out a couple of years ago.  It was nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Film.

The movie is a highly fictionalized account of the creation of the celebrated illuminated manuscript known today as The Book of Kells after the Irish monastery with which it is associated.  The Book of Kells is an awe-inspiring work of art that shows the full, glorious powers of both medieval illuminators and centuries of artistic development in Celtic culture.

Our story centers on a young man living at the monastery of Kells who becomes apprenticed to the master illuminator.  At the same time, he lives under a constant threat of Viking invasion.  He also begins a strange friendship with a mysterious girl who lives in the forest.  There are competing forces at work in the boy's life.  Kells represents the promise of civilization -- these are the Dark Ages, and civilization is a rather precarious notion, but it exists.  The work of illumination and art is presented as the crowning achievement of civilization.  The Vikings represent an existential threat to civilization.  They can tear it all down in a night and destroy everything.  The girl and her forest represent a more innocent time in civilization's past that is now fading.  The three forces are in competition, but at the same time, they balance one another.  Nature proves to be brutal.  Civilization proves that it has the potential to ignore art as easily as the nihilistic forces.  In the end, the relationships are interdependent -- but man chooses to move forward, conquer the darker urges, and produce art.

The movie is gorgeous.  Although the animation style seems simple, each frame is a complex work of art and design.

Some of the online reviewers at ding the movie for a slow pace.  It unfolds much like a dream, so it is somewhat languid.  But moments of action are suitably speedy.  Others remark on the fact that the Book of Kells is a bible and the religious aspects are played down in favor of fairy magic.  True, but I think this is intended to enhance the universality of art.  It transcends religion.  Art is a common and universal human expression that, like religion, brings forth our better natures and lights the world.

I recommend The Secret of Kells.  If you appreciate great art, you don't want to miss this movie.

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