July 30th, 2021
MOVIE: THE GREEN KNIGHT
STARRING: DEV PATEL, ALICIA VIKANDER, JOEL EDGERTON, SEAN HARRIS
DIRECTED BY: DAVID LOWERY
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 4 STARS (Out of 4)
I’m left thinking about many things after experiencing David Lowery’s The Green Knight, the tale set in the King Arthur universe, about a knight embarking on a journey and facing his own destiny. The two factors that I left thinking about were 1) the interpretation, representation, multiple meanings of the color green and 2) how the portrayal of heroism has always been wrong. That is until now. And that’s just a few of the things that audiences will be left with in their heads after watching The Green Knight. It’s visually one of the greatest looking films ever, with the use of light beams, hypnotizing forest mazes, and immersive landscapes. I say that without flinching. But it’s also challenging, as Dev Patel gracefully portrays the title character, in a story that never wastes a moment to say something about the hero’s journey. The Green Knight is groundbreaking cinema in David Lowery’s epic and immersive achievement.
It begins with the head of the Green Knight (Ralph Ineson) on fire. A chilling image, a sense of dread being cast across this story. The screenplay is adapted by Lowery, taking his approach, his interpretation of the text from the 14th-century Arthurian poem, and using his elegant style of bringing it all to life. The hero is Sir Gawain (Dev Patel), an assistant to the King (Sean Harris), sitting by his side, like a son that the crown never had. It is Christmas and behind the scenes, Gawain’s Mother (Sarita Choudhury) encants a spell, summoning a spirit, which soon after at the festivities, there is a knock on the door. In enters the Green Knight on his horse, big in stature, carrying a large axe, and a face of mossy wood. The challenge of a fight is offered, allowing whoever accepts the chance to strike him once, but in one years time the knight must journey to the green chapel and receive a result of the same fate. Gawain steps up to the challenge, but the Green Knight offers his neck, his head chopped off in front of witnesses, setting Gawian on a course for his own mortality. It becomes his path, his destiny, but it morphs into a question of bravery and what a man can be when his number is called.
The second half of The Green Knight is focused on the journey of Gaiwan, mounting his horse, galloping down the isolated road, with a misty fog covering him for miles. Along the path arrive the challenges, a collection of various tests for Gaiwan to pass, or survive on his own. He’s given directions to go down a mysterious road from a snotty Scavenger (Barry Keoghan), only to arrive trapped in the woods by his pair of thieving friends. It’s his first trial of patience and survival, but it’s followed by much more complex conflicts, where he’s welcomed into the home of The Lord (Joel Edgerton) and his wife Essel (Alicia Vikander in multiple roles). This is a test of temptation, where the wife is offered in lust, or pushing her own passions onto a long awaited stranger from nowhere. It’s only one of many temptations, where Gaiwan’s mind conjures up visions of ghosts, a woman on the road named Winifred (Erin Kellyman) that may have been murdered, or is she an interpretation of what could happen to Gaiwan as he proceeds on? All of it on paths with castles in the background, misty mountains, traveling giants, and a talking fox walking at his side. All of it’s meanings are different with every step. My interpretation will not be the same as yours.
When viewing The Green Knight it’s impossible to not think of classic cinema that paved the way for Lowery’s style. The number one inspiration that comes to mind is Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring. The biggest difference is the color injected into the screen on The Green Knight vs. the deep focused black & white that Bergman captures. Both add a unique texture and both equally feel on the same wave thematically. Characters enter along the path, new characters are ready to change the dynamic of our hero, tempt him, manipulate him, and keep him unaware of his surroundings. On top of the narrative mystery, the grand scale of the journey is in the scope of David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia, and the impeccable visual stylings could be equal to that of Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon. It was evident before how good David Lowery can be as a director, this is a master firing on all of his creative cylinders.
The Green Knight is a piece of art, a pristine wonder of storytelling being brought to life, and leaving us to think about what it all meant. It’s the journey for Gaiwan that is celebrated, while the mannerisms of this character push back against the gung-ho swordsmen, ready to rescue damsels, and unflinching in the face of death. This character comes to life by Dev Patel, who delivers a career defining performance, carrying his axe with a bitterness and reserved fear. Any other actor cast as Gaiwan wouldn’t bring half the charisma, half the emotional weight, and Patel will leave audiences with a lasting impact. And that’s where it goes back to the interpretation of green, the color of envy, and a new beginning. It’s the tinted color of smoke, the halo crown resting behind Gaiwan’s head, and the incredibly symbolic green sash wrapped around his waist. It all makes the man who he is, the embodiment of what it means to be courageous, and how that fearless approach can be derailed with a harsh reality. One thing is for certain watching David Lowery’s masterpiece, it’s not easy being green.
THE GREEN KNIGHT IS PLAYING IN SELECT THEATERS AND THE MUSIC BOX THEATRE CHICAGO.
Written by: Leo Brady