A Way the Film The Secret of Kells Illustrates "Moral Economy"
When I say that The Secret of Kells — the Irish Oscar contender for Best Animated Feature that had everyone scratching their heads when it was announced a few weeks ago — harks back to an earlier style of drawing, I don't just mean pre-digital animation. I mean the kind of drawing that monks did in the Middle Ages; those curlicued borders and ornate letters they hand-painted in holy books. In Ireland's Book of Kells, for instance — a 9th-century volume that took many monks many years to illuminate. In the film, there's a nod to traditional lore indicating that the manuscript originated at a Scottish abbey in Iona, and was then brought to Kells, where the illuminations were added.
Not only is the film’s bold look pleasing to the eyes, the captivating story will warm your heart. I certainly believed in the innocent boy’s quest to find the right berries in the dark forest. They are needed to create a magnificent color that will allow a great artist to complete a sacred manuscript. It is easy to believe this book is necessary for the preservation of the Celtic culture and that it has to be finished and protected from the invading hordes of barbarians from the north. What happens in the forest is the beginning of a fantastic experience. The film’s simple plot and premise is based on facts; such illuminated medieval manuscripts do exist including the “Book of Kells” (Dublin, Trinity College Library, ca. 800 AD) and the hordes that are sacking villages in the film may be the Vikings that invaded Ireland. This plot also seems very real; most people know that people in the Holly Lands once made great efforts to preserve their culture and beliefs from invaders. The rediscovered Dead Sea Scrolls are an example of this. We do use the Celtic cross in the film; in fact the layout of Kells is based on it. I believe the Celtic cross shows the merging of Pagan worship of the Sun God Lugh and the new Christian faith. The circle that holds the arms of the cross can be seen as the overlaying of the old gods on the new faith. The underground world is shown in a megalithic tomb, many of which are still in Ireland. Some are believed older than the pyramids. On the winter solstice, the pre-Celtic people who built them designed them so the sun would light up the internal chamber. This showed the defeat of the darkness, the winter and the beginning of spring and better weather and hope for the harvest with the new light.”
Briefly, the film raised the issues of culture, nature, knowledge, and the necessity to unite them into harmony. The wall between the monastery (culture) and the forest (nature) symbolizes a border between these worlds. Pangur is the combination of culture and nature as well as an attempt to find harmony in art. With Brandon’s talent, nature integrated into culture through the artwork of the Book of Kells. The book is the symbol of knowledge and the need to pass it down from generation to generation.