Formal Film Analysis Writing Sample
Excerpt from my masters thesis
***Conclusion of the masters thesis: Song of the Sea: A “Stolen” Irish Moment for Every Viewer by Olivia Volarich
For many viewers, Song of the Sea is a unique film with an inherently different feel than mainstream children’s films. The film delivers a deeply emotional lesson to children, especially in comparison to the formulaic Disney and PIXAR cannon. This personal and authentic message, which is evident from the influence of Moore’s Irish roots and childhood, is a condition of the terms in which the film is created. Though Moore and Cartoon Saloon utilized a vast team of independent studios, there is a stark difference between the production behind Song of the Sea as compared with big budget mainstream films that are recognized from giants like Disney and Pixar. With Moore’s freedom as an independent filmmaker to pursue the necessary groups to fund his more personal follow up to Secret of Kells, he was able to instill the same potency of Irish folklore into Song of the Sea.
Without the pressure to conform to a specific “look” that contemporary audiences have come to expect from animated features, Moore created a film that digs deeply into the emotions of grief and loss that delivers a message, resonating with today’s audience, as evidenced by critics. Coupled with a beautiful 2-D aesthetic, tranquil color palette, and revolutionary compositing process; Song of the Sea is an entirely different experience than mainstream U.S. children’s films released in recent years. The affordances of independent production are astronomically different than that of larger corporations because the independent company does not have to make its decisions based on the framework put in place by the larger corporation. An independent company can make decisions with more flexibility and not necessarily have to focus on upholding the trappings of a specific, world-recognized, iconic brand like Disney.
Moore has created a film about the human condition: humans bottle up emotions and ignore them because they are too overwhelming. In order to move forward, move on, one needs to accept feeling these emotions, and confront these feelings, by reconnecting with one’s past and the environment. In Song of the Sea, this is echoed through Bronach’s stories where the themes of loss need acknowledgement in order to become part of one’s past history, and therefore its own story. It is that passing on of stories and history and memories that engrain in humans who they truly are, and where they came from. Song and story are ways to release one’s feelings and help one to reestablish a connection with self and past. Ben uses his mother’s stories to come to terms with his loss, like when he realizes that Macha is no more than a confused and sad mother, and so we can parallel Bronach with that of “Mother” Ireland; especially when she says, “remember me in my stories”, and by extension the earth, itself. Ultimately, the earth, sea, and planet itself is the mother.
This film is about the nature of human beings today: people bottle up our emotions and hide them via constant distractions, especially with the use of technology. This is not directly addressed in the film, but Moore has been quoted as saying that one of his concerns is how people have come to live sealed off in their own closed bubbles of a world due to technology. The film supports reconnecting with the environment, humans’ primal nature, and reestablishing a true connection with cultural heritage, to return to a more natural state of living. The overall message the film embraces is that humans need to first accept their feelings and get back in touch with themselves and their heritage and then return to, and reestablish respect for the environment: return to the true mother. The film suggests a need to return to a simpler time, and for children to not keep their faces glued to screens. The message stresses that the world, as a whole, needs to remember Mother Nature, the land, the earth, and that it is where the human race came from. This is a story that young children will understand, and at the same time will resonate strongly with adults.
A soul-touching film like this is the product of Celtic mythology because Moore wanted to illuminate his Irish roots, but it is also so much more than that. Like Joseph Campbell identifies the pan-mythic hero and his cycle, a model that can be applied to nearly any story from any country, Song of the Sea unites our collective identities and understanding of what is myth. This is what makes the film distinctly un-Disney like, or anti-mainstream. When Disney creates a feature, they capitalize on, or mine other cultures into their brand by changing things indiscriminately: they pass the mythology through their commercial agenda. Whereas Song of the Sea is a collectively honest telling of a story that is both familiar, in the sense of the hero’s cycle and children’s films’ themes, but also new and different.
Song of the Sea departs from trivial boundaries typically seen within children’s films by embracing folkloric roots and melding them together with a contemporary family melodrama. The film also has a distinct look and feel that differentiate it from mainstream children’s feature. The duality at play throughout the film exhibits a fusion of past and future; aesthetically it is way to bring a new look to an old medium, with familiar fairytale tropes, told in a way that dances between what we recognize as the real world and the unknown magical fairy world. The duality of Moore’s compositions also connects with themes within the story of the film. Consistently, the world the movie portrays is like two sides of a coin. There is the magical world and the real world, which become increasingly entangled as the children venture further on their quest to find Saoirse’s coat. Real life characters are echoed in magical characters met on the journey.
The film is a product of where the director came from, and where the team came from. The deep roots within the film are the roots of this group of people, but more importantly, it is also a collective telling of a story that through its mode of animation, mode of production, has been understood and recognized globally. The actual animation techniques used to create a unique aesthetic set it apart from Disney, and from other popular children’s films. It is a story that grapples with the tremendous tragedy and grief of a family, but very specifically seen through the eyes of a child. For a child, losing a mother is one of the most horrific things imaginable, and for this film to be able to tell that story in such a visually entrancing aesthetic, it sharpens the potency of the loss of this family.
Song of the Sea is a distinctly Irish film, presenting unfamiliar mythic, folkloric, and cultural territory to mainstream viewers, and yet it grows from this foundation to arrive at a destination of a much wider, global breadth. Ultimately, the film delivers a spellbinding tale that digs deeper into the emotional understanding of classic folklore, and asks more of the viewer in order to find its moral messages. With its unique visual aesthetic, Song of the Sea is a film that stands out among children’s films by telling an authentically Irish tale.
You can read my entire thesis here