Believe it or not, there is occasion to still be dazzled by something onscreen when sitting in the dark of the theater. It’s alright if you don’t believe me – I mean, why would you? February once again has been slowly trying to poison our love of the cinema with such atrocities as
Jupiter Ascending and Hot Tub Time Machine 2. I promise you, though, there is hope and – if you know where to look – there is a temporary antidote that should see us all safely through to blockbuster season.
If you’re one of my Austin brethren, I encourage you to check out the Oscar-nominated Song of the Sea while it’s still playing at Regal Arbor 8. No, you won’t catch some weird disease by going to a non-Drafthouse theater, but you will probably encounter the regular riff-raff that inhabits the corner cinema. Just tell them Airman Xley told them to shut the fuck up and not talk during the movie if they’re unruly. If they don’t know who I am, first refer said patron to Drive-in Zeppelin (and tell them to like us on Facebook) and THEN tell them to shut the fuck up. No one gives a good goddamn what something in the movie reminds you of sweetie. Save it for after the credits when you return to your cave, you theater TROLL!
Apologies as always mein Liebling; I know ranting isn’t always the sexiest form of blogging. If I’ve learned anything from Song of the Sea and my trip to Regal, it’s that bottling up your emotions will make you turn to stone (literally). You won’t have to worry about fossilization or any of that nonsense if you’re lucky enough to see this movie, however. It will dazzle and delight you beyond measure and will have you cursing the heavens tonight when it loses the Oscar to Big Hero 6 for best-animated feature film. Sure BH6 was fun family film, but Song of the Sea is aesthetically gorgeous and brilliantly written.
Our story begins with a pregnant mother giving her first-born son Ben – a young boy – a conch shell so that he can hear the sea and be reminded of the mystical Irish folktales she has shared with him. When she disappears into the sea after giving birth to a daughter Saoirse (‘Seer-Sha’), the story fast-forwards six years into the future where we find a broken family. The father and devoted lighthouse-keeper (voiced by Brendan Gleeson) is still distraught and empty after the loss of his wife, Saoirse has yet to utter a word and is thought to be mute, and Ben would sooner be in the company of his loyal dog Cu than mind his little sister like he is supposed to.
The night their meddling grandmother comes to try and take the children away to the city, young Saoirse is led by an illuminating force after playing the conch instrument to a coat among her absent mother’s belongings. She subsequently wanders into the ocean where she is then transformed into a seal. We later find out that she is part selkie – a magical being that is capable of such transformation. Finding the child in human form again and washed up on the beach asleep (and having come down with a cold), the grandmother sees no alternative other than to ‘rescue’ the children from such a hostile environment and proceeds to take Ben and Saoirse to Dublin.
Disheartened by their new home, the children quickly escape on a journey to find a way back to their father and the lighthouse. Along the way, Ben and Saoirse find themselves engulfed in many of the same fantastical stories their mother always talked about. Additionally Saoirse discovers her ability to tune into the spirit realm and nature through her gifts as a selkie and with the help Ben’s conch shell.
It’s a story of love, loss and the sibling relationship that is layered with rich mythology and folklore. Beautiful is a term that I seldom get to use as a cinephile, but beautiful is the only word I can use to describe Song of the Sea. Director/writer Tomm Moore has created a wondrous and vibrant style that immediately calls to mind the works of Hayao Miyazaki whom Moore has incidentally cited as his personal inspiration.
Whereas Miyazaki draws upon the wealth of his Japanese heritage to create internationally acclaimed works such as Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke, Moore celebrates the folk stories of his native Ireland as he did in his 2009 Oscar nominated film The Secret of Kells. With Song of the Sea, we get tales of spirits, selkies, fairies and the like that seems as if they’ve been immortally captured in a children’s storybook and jazzed up with a modern family drama. Moore’s animations are infused with Celtic designs and an eerie mysticism that makes it seem as if a painting is coming to life before your eyes.
There is something absolutely enchanting in the way Moore and his animation company Cartoon Saloon are able to use traditional animation to tell such a compelling story. The characters are engaging, and the story is both poignant and inspiring, but the real beauty in this film is the swirling palettes of color that captivate the audience with each passing frame. Set aside all that digital shit and be refreshed by a style of animation that is truly magical.
Spellbinding, delightful, and with a mesmerizing soundtrack – Song of the Sea is without a doubt one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen. Its story is touching in that it combines a family in the throes of perdition with the fantasy and majesty embodied by Irish folklore. I tried to think of the perfect descriptor for this film, but the best I could come up with is to liken it to the equally beautiful film Pan’s Labyrinth if it were a Studio Ghibli animated film (and Irish). It has dark elements, a timeless and engrossing story, and an aesthetic mastery that will see you through these otherwise barren months of cinema.
The Bottom Line:
It’s a beautiful fucking movie. See it.
My only complaint would be that the character of Ben is slightly annoying, but what 8-year-old boy isn’t? Oh, also those bimbos that sat behind me in the theater that wouldn’t shut the fuck up. Why couldn’t you go and talk through a titillating movie like 50 Shades of Grey with the rest of your sexually frustrated friends on Friday night? Assholes…