The Green Knight
Photo | A24
Sumptuous and mysterious, “The Green Knight” is a mesmerizing retelling of the Arthurian legend “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” a cornerstone of Western literature and a foundational myth. Dev Patel plays Gawain as a young man fulfilling his youthful promise in a coming-of-age tale that is both emotionally recognizable and full of giants and other enchantments.
Director David Lowery emphasizes the source and its textuality with onscreen titles echoing the sections of the 14th-century poem and its form. Lowery is a singular director whose 2017 film “A Ghost Story” looked very different but still explored the supernatural as a metaphor for personal growth, and also created a deeply affecting sense of mystery and dread. That is a fascinating, small-scale film in which a character played by Casey Affleck remains on earth as a ghost, and it is a memorable and beautiful way of considering grief.
“The Green Knight,” similarly, is a symbolic exploration of growing into manhood, expressed as Gawain’s hero’s journey. When the film begins, Gawain is stumbling out of a brothel on Christmas Day and leaves his mother, the magical Morgan le Fay, at home to join his uncle, King Arthur. He feels extremely young, untested and unworthy compared to the legendary Knights of the Round Table, but the king thinks he has promise.
When the Green Knight bursts into the room and challenges someone to a Christmas game, it is Gawain who accepts; he attacks the monstrous knight with the king’s sword, promising that the knight can return the blow in one year. The gravity of the bargain does not fully dawn on him, and from the beginning, the immature Gawain asks the king if it is real or just a game. When Gawain sets out to meet the Green Knight one year later, what is real and what is not becomes less and less clear.
His story unfolds in a series of encounters, first with a shifty scavenger on a battlefield strewn with bodies, then a wronged woman who is looking for her head. Giants walk past, foxes talk and Gawain wanders further and further from what we think is the real world. Alicia Vikander plays a dual role as his humble lover back home and a grand lady in a castle, as he works out the sexual aspects of manhood and acquires a protective garment that takes on great meaning.
Hundreds of college courses have been taught on the symbolism of this story; it is replete with meaning to sort through. As a film, is the experience of watching “The Green Knight” more than just an exercise in literary analysis? The stunning visuals make it so, and the performances mine a contemporary sensibility from a deep well of centuries of chivalric code. The Green Knight himself is incredible looking, a bark-covered tree monster wielding a fearful, tremendous ax.
David Lowery took an ancient myth and dressed it up in glorious, fairy tale finery. Dreamlike and abstracted, you can dwell on your interpretation of the events or you can get lost in the imagery as it unfolds. After two hours of being in a moody visual trance, you might be surprised the conclusion is fairly, well, conclusive. If you become impatient with some of the trippier legs of Gawain’s journey, stick it out and you will see there really is a destination, however — literally — foggy it may seem at times.
Also, Dev Patel is never less than watchable and convincing onscreen, even if he needs his own convincing at times. We may have seen this earnest actor come of age already in a few movies, but never has he done his striving in such a fantastical and amazing setting. Plus, his hair!
There are such masterful touches that nod to this film’s place in the tradition and history of the telling of the story itself, like a puppet show that tells Gawain’s tale to children, and even the film’s titles build on the idea of a tradition of retelling his story.
Lowery’s fantastical treatment grounds this tale as old as time deep within the realm of the imagination, while his actors’ canny performances position their interpretation in a surprisingly comprehensible psychological space. It is a version of a canonical myth that can be understood and also experienced, and it is utterly beautiful to behold.
“The Green Knight” is currently available to rent.
New This Week:
“Eternals”: In this Marvel film, the Eternals, a race of immortal beings with superhuman powers who have secretly lived on Earth for thousands of years, reunite to battle the evil Deviants. All multiplex theaters, Nexus Cinema Dining.
“Spencer”: In 1991, while spending the Christmas holiday with the royal family at Sandringham House, Princess Diana (Kristen Stewart) decides to leave Prince Charles. AMC Mobile 16.
“The French Dispatch”: From Wes Anderson, this film is a love letter to journalists set in an outpost of an American newspaper in a fictional, 20th-century French city. It brings to life a collection of stories by such Anderson players as Timothée Chalamet, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Owen Wilson and many more. Crescent Theater.
This page is available to our subscribers. Join us right now to get the latest local news from local reporters for local readers.
The best deal is found by clicking here. Click here right now to find out more. Check it out.
Already a member of the Lagniappe family? Sign in by clicking here