I haven’t seen The Secret of Kells yet, and I’m not the only one, the film has only had a very limited run here in the States to qualify it for an Academy — but I’ve been intrigued ever since I first heard about it. And Filmwell’s review only increases my interest.
The incorporation and demonization of folk belief are as old as old as the Christian faith, and it’s not difficult to imagine that for many of the monks of medieval Ireland, there was no serious dissonance between the trinitarian God they worshipped and the faeries outside the abbey walls. And while there’s no explicitly Lewisian baptizing of the pagan myths, the film aesthetically ties the two, not just in making the natural world mirror the illuminated manuscript or vice versa but also by countless small details, working trinitarian symbols into the forest trees and crosses in the place of snowflakes, descending gently onto the earth. Aisling, Brendan’s fairy friend, is as delightful a pagan creature as you’re likely to meet, but she sides herself quite clearly with Kells and its mission. You can interpret that as you wish — softening the Book of Kells into a syncretistic gaelic mythology or trumpeting the divine spirit that animates the world. But in this ambiguity the film at least allows for the give-and-take that must have been going on within the Irish soul. That it does this largely through aesthetic choices — this film is all aesthetic choices — is a matter of no small commendation.