We watched The Secret of Kells last night – it was truly beautiful. [Note: the following does discuss one plot point, but it’s nothing that is not revealed within the first ten minutes… I don’t like spoilers, and in any case the story itself is somewhat slight and not the most compelling reason to watch the film.]
The art style didn’t seem like anything too special at the very beginning, but I quickly got sucked in as I noticed the amazing attention to detail that lay behind what was at first glance a simple, even spare visual shorthand – everything from the forest echoing a cathedral (a nice reversal), to subtle Celtic-style interlacing in the mist, to individual knotwork snowflakes(!)… this film definitely rewards close attention.
One element that I found particularly interesting was the choices they made in depicting the Vikings as completely angular and machine-like, almost non-human – the closest comparison I can make is to the depiction of the Hammers in “The Wall”, which of course owed much to Nazi and Soviet-era propaganda art. Even more interesting than that, though, was the way that the building of the abbey’s defences echoed that mechanistic signature, over against the rounded and organic notes of the scriptorium and the forest, and of the manuscript pages themselves; all of which seemed to be speaking, in a subtle way, to the ultimate futility of stopping force with force alone.
In the end, though, story and message is not what Kells is really about – the movie is a love letter to the art of the animator, and a visually stunning homage to one of the world’s great artistic masterpieces.