Skellig: The Owl Man
by Jef Burnham
Now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Image Entertainment.
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In Skellig, adapted from David Almond’s award-winning children’s novel, a young boy named Michael and his parents have just moved into a new home when Michael finds an old man living in the dilapidated shed on the back of his family’s property. The man is cynical and mean, and apparently lives off a diet of bugs that he plucks from his hair and the occasional snail. What’s more is that the old man’s limbs have atrophied from years of disuse, including the pair of wings he keeps hidden beneath his rotten old coat. The man’s name is Skellig, and although he is the titular character, this is not in fact his story.
Instead, this is a story about growing up— a story about the pain of being at that age when you’re a “young adult” but are still treated like a child. Michael is such a boy, withdrawing from his parents, who barely speak to him and leave him out of the loop in all family matters. They refuse even to tell him that his newborn, baby sister’s health is on the decline. Typically, such a story would result in the magical outsider (here, Skellig) bringing the family together, and teaching them to appreciate each other once again. But much to the credit of Almond and screenwriter Irena Brignull, Michael is the only one able to right the wrongs in his family and the only capable of teaching Skellig to fly again.
What I found really refreshing about this film is that, for a work directed at young people, the main character is inspiringly proactive and the film’s themes are grand, acknowledging just how capable young people can be, both as audience members and members of society at large. The themes are unflinchingly honest, dealing with life and death, and people’s tendency to grow old and give up on themselves and the world. Moreover, Skellig is about man and the world around him, proposing that all life is special, all life is a miracle, going so far as to visually lament the death of a single fly.
This is not an easy film. It is certainly darker than the average children’s fare, posing challenging questions and offering compelling themes for younger viewers, but I believe that such a film can only do its viewers good. After all, most children are either currently dealing with family drama such as that depicted in the film, or they some day will, and it does no good to shelter them from such a study. In either case, the film will give them an outlet for dealing with their emotions or prepare them for dealing with such problems when they arise. Skellig is simply an exceptional film for young audiences.
As a bonus, this wonderfully written film is also graced with a brilliant cast. Bill Milner (Son of Rambow), who plays Michael, is a terrific young actor. Tim Roth (Reservoir Dogs, TV’s Lie to Me) plays Skellig himself, and two of my personal favorite actors, John Simm (Doctor Who, Life on Mars) and Kelly Macdonald (No Country for Old Men, The Merry Gentleman), star as Michael’s parents.
Unfortunately, the only bonus feature on either the HD or SD release is the film’s trailer. However, as the film was shot in HD, the Blu-ray release looks absolutely fantastic, capturing the film’s alternating light and dark atmospheric qualities beautifully.
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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