I am a sucker for beautiful films. Don’t get me wrong; gritty stories, which tell it like it is from the trenches, also pull me in, and if the story doesn’t acknowledge the darker side of life at all, it usually seems cheesy.
But I love stories that show me the beauty and innocence in life, which weave a thread binding real life and myth–the conscious and the unconscious.
I recently watched the film, ‘Song of the Sea,’ written and directed by Tomm Moore, who also gave us ‘The Secret of Kells.’ It’s about a boy’s journey from being mean to being a good brother. It’s about a girl coming to know and accept her inner, secret self. It shows that the mundane world in which we move about is not the only world. The people we see in cities and towns are only some of the beings in existence. Part metaphor, part Irish myth, yet set in the modern day, this film reminds of something a great teacher of bhakti-yoga said, Srila BR Sridhar Maharaja, that the world we perceive with our senses is just like the cream on top of an ocean of milk. There is so much more beneath the surface.
The artwork is gorgeous, with watercolor backgrounds and intricate patterns everywhere. The design of the characters is based on simple shapes– circles, triangles, squares and so on. The simple basis of the art makes the innovations all the more pleasing.
There are no enemies in this film’s story. Everyone is doing what they do for their own reasons, no one is wrong. Everyone is redeemed and it feels real, not corny.
He speaks about a continuum of magic systems ranging from soft to hard. A soft magic system is mysterious. Its specific rules– if there are any– are unknown to the reader. An example is Gandalf in ‘The Lord of the Rings.’ What can and can’t he do, exactly? No one knows. The upside of this is that it gives the story a sense of mystery. The potential downside is that if characters use the magic to solve major problems, it seems like a copout.
A hard magic system is more ‘physical,’ in the sense that the reader understands its specific limitations. Superheroes are examples of this: Superman can fly, has laser vision, speed, strength etc. Wolverine can heal really quickly, has claws etc. If Wolverine could suddenly fly, we’d feel like someone pulled a fast one on us.
The magic system in ‘Song of the Sea’ is soft, but we get a general idea of what the characters are capable of, and no one suddenly becomes super powerful. But actually the rules are evident, but they are not physical rules. The magic is limited and liberated by the choices of the characters. As they make key choices the world around them unlocks. I’ll say no more. Watch it and you’ll see what I mean.