The Secret of Kells

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jun 29, 2015

Not only is 2-D alive and kicking, it would appear that you can entertain and make money with a 2-D film that is almost completely visually and narratively stylized, as well as being really rooted in a complex and dimly distant past.  It’s an awful lot to chew on, and that they pull it off so confidently, so triumphantly, is a really a tribute to all involved.

The film evokes and invokes numerous forebears, and does it quite wonderfully.  Illuminated manuscripts.  Pre-Giotto painting, with linear perspective appearing like a gleam in the visual artists’ more elemental, primordial eye.  Imperiled civilization in the deepest part of the Dark Ages.  One of the film’s great satisfactions is that it is historical and mythological in equal measure.  It pertains to these people, in this place at that time.  It pertains to everyone, regardless of particular circumstance.

The conflict is St. George and the Dragon, except without that English certainty, that English smugness.  Early Christianity really does grapple with the pagan past, and the conclusion isn’t foregone.  One of the reasons is that the pagan past cannot simply be dismissed, or condemned.  The missionaries will object, but there are truth and beauty there.  Even more, the pagan—the elemental, unfathomable female—is the only thing capable of opposing or defeating pagan monster.

All that sounds pretty art film, and I guess it is.  But it’s also easy.  We’ve also got a child protagonist for child audiences to relate to, a loving overbearing adult to love/hate.    We’ve got a childlike sense of wonder, and a sense of the challenges and satisfactions of adult occupation and vocation.  Comical on the margins, formidable antagonism, a wonderful sense of community and possibility.  It’s really good while you watch, and it grows in stature in the recollecting.