The Secret of Kells is a full-color animated film created by the Irish company Cartoon Saloon. The film is dedicated to the events of the medieval history of Ireland. The plot of the cartoon revolves around the adventures of a young monk Brendan, the history of salvation, and the completion of the Book of Kells at the beginning of the 9th century. However, its main symbolic component is related to environmental issues. In this case, Brendan symbolizes culture and its creative potential, and Aisling symbolizes nature. These two characters are separated by the monastery walls. The art object of the film is Pangur, a cat that combines the essence of culture and nature, thus creating harmony.
Pangur is directly related to the Book of Kells, a beautifully illustrated edition. Pangur’s eyes are of two different colors – blue and green. The blue color symbolizes culture, and the green color means nature. Thus, the cat lies between culture and nature. It leads Brandon to the book, and then she steals the key in the tower with Aisling’s magic.
The mission of Pangur is to protect the Book of Kells, culture, and nature. Pangur is a transgressive object that violates the boundaries between culture and nature. Brendan disobeys his uncle for the first time, sneaking into the forest. Pangur, in its turn lead him from the monastery (culture) to the forest (nature). Pangur also saves Brendan from death in the forest, and then it comes to the monk with Aisling. The image of Aisling is visually quite similar to Pangur.
Brandon has blue eyes and belongs to culture and to the monastery. He is the carrier of culture and its symbolic content expressed in the art. The idea of the movie is that culture is always a supplement to nature. In this case, it is the second nature with a symbolical language. The Kells is the center of culture, which is situated in the woods, and the monastery walls, which clearly separate culture from nature, fence it. Moreover, the turning to nature manifests in the search for acorns for ink, when Brandon goes to the forest where he meets Aisling, a symbol of nature.
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Aisling is initially hostile to Brandon, thus her first question is, “You have come to spoil it, haven’t you?” It is not surprising that Brandon is defenseless in the woods, while Aisling feels there at home. The most striking image in the woods is the oak tree, which is also both the center of nature and the whole world. Aisling tries to help Brandon, because nature is practically non-threatening to humans. Moreover, nature is vulnerable to people and old forces represented by Crom Cruach.
The plot of the movie is built around the Book of Kells, a real-life artifact that has changed the Ireland culture and its religion. In the film, it is a symbol of knowledge, which is often associated with the light, “His writings are said to glow from the pages, as though they are light. Sinners have been blinded while glancing upon the pages”. Thus, the book draws Brandon’s attention, and Pangur, as a conductor from nature to culture, helps him to reach it. The book contains not only the knowledge of culture, but also the wisdom of nature, and therefore, the ornament combines its different elements. That is why after the destruction of the monastery, the book must be saved first. This means that only knowledge is important, and books are the sources of it.
Thus, 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.
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