The Secret of Kells

December 21, 2014

the secret of kellsI had no idea what to make of this film when I received the request to write a review for it. I’ve never heard of it before, even if it was made in 2009. Obviously, if you know where to look, you’ll find the film itself and opinions of the viewers. But if you don’t, you’ll “walk” right past it. So today I will keep my promise and speak about The Secret of Kells.

We are taken to Ireland, somewhere in the Middle Ages, when what is today known as “the Book of Kells”, the four Gospels of the New Testament, was still unfinished. We step into the Abbey of Kells and meet a handful of monks and a boy who will play a crucial role in the unfolding of future events: Brendan (voiced by Evan McGuire). With the help of brother Aidan (Mick Lally), a master illuminator from the Island of Iona, and of Aisling (Christen Mooney), a fairy… or a forest spirit.

It’s an interesting little thing, you have to uncover its secrets on your own if you truly wish to feel and understand it. Even after I said yes to the review, I was a bit reluctant to watch it because I am not particularly interested in films which focus upon religious themes and because I was never a fan of the animation used here. However, that aside, I am happy I got to watch it. It isn’t what I would call fast-paced, but you don’t get bored watching it. The music is simply gorgeous and it goes perfectly well with the imagery. For all my reluctance, I have to admit that I was easily won over by the way sound and sight are interwoven. Aisling’s voice is captivating, inviting you from the very beginning to step into a world where mythology is still very much alive, where you will learn that the focus is not quite on religion, but on the importance of knowledge and friendship. After all, “people must have books, so that they may have hope”. For without hope, where would we be? Without protecting and gaining more knowledge, what would we do?

I was fascinated by the play of colours, by the picture painted by light and darkness. Invasions were common occurrences in the Middle Ages and they are painted here in deep red and the darkest black. The Vikings look like beasts, like demons from the deepest circle of hell. And hell itself follows them wherever they go. And then we have the forest and the way it is presented takes your breath away. It is full of light and of gorgeous shades of green, bursting with life and tranquility. The abbey is somewhere in the middle, not exactly beautiful… not quite scary. Between danger and safety, the monks try to create a refuge where hope will thrive.

Fear and danger seem to be constant companions of the characters, but they can be overcome. It takes a great deal of courage for people, for children (because Brendan is a little more than a child) to go against or within darkness and do whatever it is needed to protect what they value the most. I believe that the secret mentioned in the title does no refer only to the book itself, but also to the way it was created, to the the secret-of-kells21entire process. To Aisling who, although she belongs to the past, helped create a part of the future. To Brendan and Aidan, the ones who actually wrote the book. To those who protected it. Religion might be in the center of it all, but what makes The Secret of Kells captivating is the way art, friendship, pain and beauty are presented. They are all part of life.

To be honest, I really don’t see how you couldn’t appreciate the film if you know the value of books. To see the illustrations drawn by Brendan literally come to life is a treat. Let Aisling’s words wash over you, understand that beauty and knowledge will never disappear. There will always be brave souls keeping them alive, despite the suffering and darkness looming just a breath away. Hope will always find a way to shine through.

by Elena Atudosiei

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2 Responses to The Secret of Kells

  1. Vanga on August 16, 2016 at 7:57 am

    It has beautiful hand drawn animation which means no one will see it. It’s a shame that movies like this get pushed to the art house theaters and not the big ones.

  2. Romola Garai on September 30, 2016 at 4:16 pm

    I think the beautiful idea of great importance to share/pass the knowledge, in this case in form of a book, is so strong and dominant, that children ‘get it’ and see the film in quite a positive light. At least mine did. We’ve seen it twice so far and both times it was a completely immersive experience.

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