“A fantasy retelling of the medieval story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” Director: David LoweryWriter: David LoweryStaring: Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sarita ChoudhuryRelease Date: July 30, […]
“A fantasy retelling of the medieval story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.”
Director: David Lowery Writer: David Lowery Staring: Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sarita Choudhury Release Date: July 30, 2021
The Green Knight is a classic A24 studio production. It has mythos that studies one’s ethos sandwiched between outstanding visuals and appreciable performances. It will force you to ponder it afterwards, and audience’s opinions on it may vary depending on how deep they want to delve into what the story can mean. However, all of these entrenched traits doesn’t necessarily make for an outstanding movie.
Let’s take our heroic journey and try and understand The Green Knight.
Gawain (Dev Patel) is the nephew of King Arthur (Sean Harris), but he does not have the same tenor as his uncle. We are introduced to him drunk, in a brothel, on Christmas Eve. He has the royal blood, but he is not fit for the crown. Gawain seemingly has a chance to redeem himself when the fantastical Green Knight enters Camelot and bestows a challenge to patrons celebrating Christmas.
“Oh, greatest of kings, indulge me in this friendly Christmas game. Let whichever of your knights is boldest of blood and wildest of hearts step forth, take up arms and try with honor to land a blow against me. Whomsoever nicks me shall lay claim to this my arm. Its glory and riches shall be thine. But… thy champ must bind himself to this: should he land a blow, then one year and Yuletide hence, he must seek me out yonder to the Green Chapel six nights to the north. He shall find me there and bend a knee and let me strike him in return, be it a scratch on the cheek or a cut in the throat. I will return what was given me, and then in trust and friendship, we shall part. Who, then, who is willing to engage with me?”
Gawain volunteers to fight this mysterious vessel, but he is perplexed when the challenger lays down his axes and bows his head. Gawain does not realize this is a test of mercy, and therefore he fails it miserably when he beheads the Green Knight. When the Green Knight arrises from the ground with his head in his hand, Gawain realizes he is royally fucked. Does he embrace the road he paved for himself, or will he be tepid in developing courage to face his own consequences.
The audience follows Gawain trekking through the woods, over mountains and interacting with various individuals while attempting to get to the mysterious green chapel to meet his fate. An extra added flair to the story comes when Gawain eats mushrooms he finds in the wild…mushrooms that immediately make him sick. It is after this point where a lot of fantastical occurrences happen…so is this journey really happening?
Eventually Gawain does get to the Green Knight. He waits till Christmas Day and the repayment of his debt. Literally on his hands and knees, Gawain has a premonition (or is it reality?) of him running away from the Green Knight, returning home, taking the throne after Arthur, getting stuck in an unhappy marriage and then eventually reconciling with the fact that he is a bad man just in time for his kingdom to burn to the ground. I know, really happy right?
There are a lot of ways to interpret the story of The Green Knight, and there is no right or wrong answer.
My interpretation of the ending is as follows: Gawain does realize that he lived a non-knightly life just as the Green Knight is about to behead him. He does have that epiphany, but the ironic sadness is that it is too late. The decisions that he made in his life and on his journey are already etched into his life tablet. You can not undo the past. There are things that you can not make up for.
The Green Knight‘s last line is the Green Knight itself saying “Now off with your head.” I read the line as a bit comedic, said with a grin and a tinge of irony. It is like attaching “haha” to end of a text message that could be construed as a bit too true. The Green Knight is seeing the levity if the hilarious situation before them. For the Green Knight, the fate of Gawain is sealed, and he finds it somewhat funny that Gawain thinks he can still change his destiny.
The most fucked up part of this story is that Gawain’s downfall at the hand of the Green Knight comes at the hands of…his own mother. Mama always knows best, and she created this entire fable for her son to live out. We see her in a séance at the start of the movie and a green flower emerges from the soil, much like how the Green Knight is literally a part of a green house when we meet him in his natural habitat. Mother (Sarita Choudhury), which is how she is known in the movie, knows that her son is not up to the task in terms of being a chivalrous man. She goes by my own schooling method of throwing him into the fire, but reality bites him and her in the ass. He can’t take the heat.
Mother returns near the end of the movie at Lord’s (Joel Edgerton) home. Gawain is taken in by he and The Lady (Alicia Vikander) after a series of mishaps. Gawain is shown kindness, but in the end it is all about his own pleasure. Witnessing the entire thing is a blindfolded women wearing the exact same cloth over her eyes that Mother put on when she first called upon the Green Knight. Mother is watching her son fail, and she witnesses him commit signs that prove he is unknightly.
Dev Patel plays the part of Gawain very well. I know, hard hitting analysis. Where Patel thrives best is when he is groveling; whether it be to his lovers, to the Green Knight, to strangers along the way, or to himself. Patel nails the pettiness. His performance and the way his character is written makes it incredibly hard for people to root for him, even as he is on a quest to try and prove himself.
The most outstanding performer in all of The Green Knight comes from Alicia Vikander, who plays both Essel and The Lady. Essel is the women that loves Gawain for his less-than-desirable self. She tries to get him to commit to her, even bestowing him with a token of her love…but that affection is not reciprocated in the proper way. At the first moment an attractive women is offering herself to him, Gawain forgets those who truly care about him and focuses solely on his own…pleasure. Vikander playing both roles is a fantastic casting decision. She played the down and dirty and then the elevated and prestige. Gawain is being judged by the same set of eyes (the windows to the soul), and the only change is outward appearance…and Gawain fell in love with the new pretty toy.
The Green Knight is a character slip-and-slide with Gawain hitting all the bumps on his path down to death. He does not learn from his mistakes and he does not try and get better. Gawain attempts to mask his actions by saying he is only seeing honor with his knighthood, but in reality he just wants what honor brings and not what it takes to get it.
The Green Knight is the first movie I have seen that is directed by David Lowery. I know his first breakout film A Ghost Story (2017) was very well received, and it has been on Netflix for a minute so it is about time that I finally tuned into it. Hit next movie is going to be Peter Pan & Wendy (2022), a live action remake of J.M. Barrie’s classic Peter Pan tale. Should be interesting seeing Lowery from A24 filmmaking to Disney.
The Director of Photography for The Green Knight was down by Andrew Droz Palermo, and he deserves the most credit for making this movie remarkably beauty to look at. He will not be on the Peter Pan & Wendy project, so it’ll be high stakes for Lowery to make something as pretty as his latest two projects without Palermo on set.
I strongly recommend The Green Knight to anyone who wants to think a bit and are okay with having multiple interpretations of the story. The movie itself did not grip my soul like I wanted it too, rather it tickled it and left me yearning but not lusting. It is very beautiful and it has little details that I won’t notice until I watch three YouTube videos pointing them all out. And I can’t wait to do it.
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