Smile Politely

The Secret of Kells: A visual celebration of the wor(l)d

The 2010 Oscar-nominated The Secret of Kells is an animated film set in ancient Ireland, and it’s currently playing at The Art Theater. Children will enjoy the protagonist, Brendan, his forest friend, Aisling, and his feline companion, Pangur Ban. But teens and adults shouldn’t write it off purely because it’s not live action. The plot explores deeper issues, including: family relationships, friendships, impending attack (in this case, from Vikings), life and death, responsibility, and the importance of books—or at least one book. The film doesn’t have an official rating, but would be considered PG for violence.

The Secret of Kells is based on both historical fact and tradition about the actual Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript believed to be written by Celtic monks around the beginning of the ninth century or just prior to it. Parts of the book still exist and are now on display at a university library in Dublin, Ireland. The film’s characters and plot are drawn from known and theorized accounts about the book’s origins combined with an element of legend and mystery. The animation evokes the style of elaborate illuminated manuscripts, which makes it the ideal medium for telling the story in a visual manner.

The film also argues for literacy, given the central role of the book. The audience learns from the U.S. trailer that the book has the power to turn darkness to light. We discover in the full-length story what risks the characters will take to protect or possibly complete the book. One of the main characters says, “If there were no books, all knowledge would be lost for eternity.” But this is contrasted with the need to learn from life experience when Brendan argues, “You can’t find out everything from books, you know.” Those who love history, books, art, and fantastical stories will find something to relish and celebrate in this film.

Sanford Hess, operator of The Art Theater, said he enjoyed the film so much that they’re showing it for a week longer than originally planned. The Secret of Kells plays through June 10. In light of its limited distribution in the United States, a two-week run in our area is an opportunity to seize.

Catch it yourself at the late-night show, and bring the kids for a matinee to kick off the summer. Visit the Art’s web site for the full schedule, which includes specific days and showtimes.

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