By Judith O’Grady
‘Song of the Sea’, a beautiful Irish-made children’s animated film, was recently released.
Absolutely astonishing artwork! Fabulous folk tale-drenched findings! Marvelous mythic machinations!! (that’s the review, there).
My son set my tv-connected computer up with his film-on-demand thingie so I could watch it with the family (except for the son who refuses to watch movies on principal), which was fun and engaging; it’s always enjoyable to have a movie explained to you by your three-year-old grand-daughter. Due to the fact that I, like the authors of the film, have read a lot of folklore I picked out the mother as a selkie (a mythic being who is a seal but upon taking off the sealskin on land becomes human) at a glance because any west-coaster with brown eyes in a story is by default a seal. As is usual with selkie/ human marriages, it ends sadly. There is a lot of exciting action story plot—
Will the human older brother rescue his selkie sister in time (selkies will eventually die away from the sea)?
Is Macha (an Irish Goddess with a…..complex….. character) ‘good’ or ‘evil’ (it IS geared for children, neh)?
Will the lighthouse-keeper get back his selkie wife (no matter what age it’s meant for, it’s IRISH; no, of course not)?
Swept away by the extremely beautiful artwork and the clever story (written in the modern day but glancingly referencing a f-ton of folklore) I missed the point in the first viewing. But the next weekend there was an Irish film festival downtown and I was able to view it on a larger screen, surrounded by people with delightful Irish accents, and proceeded by a brief demonstration of step-dancing by little girls……
All really lasting Irish mythic tales have a lot of deconstruction. So this film is:
A delightful children’s cartoon where the (somewhat) selfish older brother rescues his differently advantaged little sister and learns to be a better person.
Eloquent proof that the culture that produced the Book of Kells can blow animation right out of the water.
Bitter Irish sarcasm detailing how degraded and destroyed the country that was once second only to Tir-na-Og has become in embracing capitalism.
A heart-wrenching dirge that these are the end times and the Magic People are leaving Ireland and going into the West.
That’s a lot of backstory. The children are taken away from the lighthouse and driven by their human Granny to Dublin from Donegal (the extreme rural North-West to the lower South) through a landscape of increasing trash, abandoned construction, wasteland, and ugliness as the urbanization increases. The Dublin children are celebrating Hallowe’e’n (an essentially American holiday) with tire fires and dressing up in commercial costumes rather than Samhain, guising, and straw-boys. All but a few of the mythic beings are already imprisoned in stones and those left are made ridiculous and inept through senility and stupidity. The children are assisted by their silly, bouncing Old English Sheepdog (named ‘hound’ in Irish Gaelic) and at the end (in contrast) by Manannán MacLir’s ineffably graceful Irish Wolfhounds made of light, freed from their trap by Macha (who turns out to be conflicted rather than good OR bad).
Manannán, His wolfhounds, Macha, the F***ies, and all the Heroes and Spirits in the dolmens and standing stones all LEAVE IRELAND at the end of the film following the song-made-solid (which is like an astounding Aurora Borealis of drawing) of the little girl who, as it turns out, was the VERY LAST SELKIE up until she decides to stay with her human family and be a regular little girl.
The film went into production right after the hit of ‘The Book of Kells’ (an excellent and beautiful movie but a little too obvious for me) brought the production company grant monies (I presume) in 2009. Right when the Celtic Tiger turned and bit the countryriding on it. So the film is a horrible Irish dirge (tip your muzzle up and keen, Cú), “We were once a poor country with an immeasurable heritage preserved against centuries of oppression. We sold it to join the EU and be (for the short term) a rich country. Now we are a poor country with a sold-out heritage and our Spirits and Gods are going away into the West. Wurra-Wurra, that we should live with hearts and land empty.”
Judith is an elderly Druid (Elders are trees, neh?) living on a tiny urban farm in Ottawa, Canada. She speaks respectfully to the Spirits, shares her home and environs with insects and animals, and fervently preaches un-grassing yards and repurposing trash (aka ‘found-object art’).