Friday, March 25, 2011

The Secret of Kells

Before I tell you about this movie, I have to tell you about this DVD. Because it is an adventure in and of itself.

See, I heard about The Secret of Kells over a year ago, before it was out on DVD, and I knew I had to see it. I've been fascinated with the Book of Kells since I discovered its existence during some research project or other in high school, and here was a movie about the making of that very book. And, well, if you've seen the previews, perhaps you'll understand my simple longing for such a gorgeous piece of cinema.

So after it came out, I waited a month and requested it from my local Interlibrary Loan. (Because it's important to use libraries!) And it was just... utterly unavailable. (Which is good. People should be watching this.)

At last I gave up, and told my mother, librarian extraordinaire (who can blame me for being a book addict, I ask you?!) to order it for her library, which is an academic library. But people will need to study this film! So it's completely justified.

Well I had my name on the request, so I figured it was only a matter of a couple weeks until the film would come to me. Little did I know that darker forces were brewing... or a sticky tab went astray... or something... and before I'd ever seen it on the shelf, someone else had checked it out.

And that person... a bane on all libraries... returned the DVD case without the movie inside!

I know. You're shuddering in horror.

Well, the kind librarians persisted in phone calls on my behalf (and the behalf of the library's DVD collection, I suppose) and the movie was returned. And set into my own mother's hands. And then at last she mentioned she had it for me!

"But you can't take it tonight," she said. "I started it last night and I have to finish it first."


And then at last I watched it, and it was worth all the waiting and twists and turns of fate, to bring me here.

This is, simply put, the most beautiful movie I've ever seen. With what is at times deceptively simple animation, the art goes into intricate detail, swirling and glowing in a way that is rightly reminiscent of the illuminated manuscript from which it takes its inspiration.

The other inspiration for the movie comes from a poem called Pangur Bán (white fuller) which was written by an Irish Monk about his cat. And the cat in question is quite important in the movie, although how closely this ties to the poem is questionable. (The poem compares mousing to study.) In any case, the cat is a delightful addition to the the cast of characters.

Part of what I love about this movie is the idea that the illuminated manuscript is somehow unworldly. It's not explicitly stated in the film, but the implication that the book wouldn't have come to be without Faerie aid is certainly present. Aisling (who at first appears to be a lost little girl, and then is revealed to be rather more) aids Brendan in collecting the things he needs for the book, and in doing so draws the parallel between this story and the historical movement of Paganism giving way to Christianity in the region.

But before I get entirely scholarly and obscure, back to the movie.

Oh, the art. The art! I've included more pictures than I usually do because the movie is just so visually stunning. If I were to capture every image you should see, I would have to lay out the entire movie on my blog. So please see it!

The music is lovely as well. I noticed it a few times, and I usually pay no attention at all to music, at least on the first viewing of a film. That's normally something that sinks in the second time I watch a show. But this music appealed to my deeper nature. Here's a little sample (although a snippet of it was in the preview):

My one warning on this--and it's not a quibble, because it's brilliantly done--is not to expect a normal story format. Although there's tension and danger, the climax is not about the war or the fighting or anything you normally see in cinematic storytelling. It's all about The Book, which makes for an oddly-paced little movie. Yet I think in this case, when the subject matter is a painstakingly beautiful piece of literary history, it is a perfect fit.

I hope you'll check this out; go to whatever lengths you must to see it. I hope you love it as much as I did.

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