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“Turning darkness into light”

Tomm Moore’s first and best project
Brendan and Aisling climbing a tree in “The secret of Kells” (Animated by Cartoon Saloon)


Everything exists within a circle. Life is cyclical and with suffering there comes relief and then more suffering. We search for any pure moment of beauty to examine in place of daily chaos and discombobulation. 

“The Secret Of Kells,” a 2009, Irish-French-Belgian co-production and animated movie, illuminates the importance of human creation amidst the horrific Viking expansion in ninth-century Ireland. 

The movie was inspired by the story of the origin of the Book of Kells, a Gospel collection written in Latin, containing the four Gospels of the New Testament. The movie references Celtic mythology, such as the inclusion of Crom Cruach, a pre-Christian Irish deity, and the poetic genre of Aislings, in which a poet finds themselves face to face with a dream or vision of a seeress. 

The movie follows a young boy, Brendan, trapped within a wall that is designed to “protect civilization” from the unstoppable Viking onslaught. Brendan is introduced to the Illuminator, Brother Aiden, who is the current creator of the Book of Iona. 

Aidan seeks out Brendan as an apprentice and they begin to work in secret in the scriptorium, against Brendan’s Uncle’s wishes. Brendan’s Uncle is the abbot of his village and is only concerned with the construction of the wall around Kells. When Brendan first leaves Kells to find berries to make ink, he meets a forest sprite named Aisling, referencing Celtic poetry, who exposes him to nature’s pure beauty.

The musical composition was developed by Bruno Coulais, one of the most sought after composers of French film music. His musical style is often shifting from one film to another, but he seems to have a certain appreciation for world music and mixing different musical cultures. 

While Coulais composed and orchestrated the soundtrack, it was performed by members of the Irish band Kila, namely Col O’ Snodaigh.


The animation style is what makes this movie so poignant, as it is 95% hand drawn. This is a technique quite nearly abandoned since the late 30’s. The producer, Tomm Moore, sought out a style made up of mostly vibrant colors to blend medieval Celtic art and contemporary imagery. 

The animation choices helped seamlessly show how spiritual acknowledgment and our everyday lives must exist as one.

Brendan and Aiden claim that the finalization of the book will “Turn darkness into light.” This statement holds true when we see the finished page right as the movie concludes and the credits begin to roll. 

This movie should be a cornerstone of animated art and entertainment. Sadly, rewatching it made me realize that pieces so perfect are hardly ever made by American production companies. A concept so simple yet executed with so much intricacy. This movie defines what it feels like to be a single being and experience the world without the interruption of others.

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