In today’s world, science is king. This means that the myths and legends of past oral traditions have become obsolete. Instead, we favour more logical, scientific explanations over the belief in magic and the will of the spirits. Without these stories of magic and spirits, the world has lost some of its wonder. Song of the Sea seeks to recapture this for a new generation through the rich folklore of Ireland. It is a story of the selkie, a being that can take both human and seal forms. The film creates a delicate balance of the real and the fantastical where the worlds of the natural and supernatural collide and coalesces, creating a balanced harmony between the realities of existence and that which is inexplicable.
It begins with an ordinary family, headed by a grieving widower struggling to take care of his two young children on his own. There is nothing extraordinary about these children, other than that daughter Saoirse at six has yet to speak a word. Saoirse idolizes her big brother Ben, and Ben continuously complains as she follows him everywhere. This makes the fantastical all the more spectacular when placed in this ordinary tale, brought to life through stunning hand drawn animations. Each frame is a work of art, surreal and yet grounded. The filmmakers take full advantage of the freedom that comes with animation, as each image flows from one to the next, keeping the theme of water running though the film, even when the action takes place on land.
The music adds to the ethereal feel to the film. Sung almost entirely in Gaelic and inspired by traditional Irish folk music, it plays an important part in the story, seamlessly integrated into the narrative, not just supplementing it, but making it something beyond the normal experience of the world. The music elevates the already wonderful visuals from pretty pictures to a celebration of tradition, faith and belief in the unfathomable and the miraculous.
Director Tomm Moore said that he wanted to pass on the old folklore and the wisdom that comes with it on to the next generation. With Song of the Sea, he has done that and more. He has created a film that transports us into a time long past, where people believed that a seal could become human and left offerings out for the spirits of the house. It also manages to recreate childhood with the petty rivalries between siblings and the deep affection brothers and sisters have for one another. More importantly, it captures the wonder of seeing everything for the first time, the fascination of new discoveries and the open mind to believe whatever is in front of their eyes and beyond.
Song of the Sea premiered on Saturday, Sept. 6 at 11:30am at TIFF Bell Lightbox. It also shows Saturday, Sept. 13th at 12:15pm at Scotiabank Theatre.