The Green Knight

The Green Knight ★★★★½

The Green Knight presents its audience with a nonsensical reality, and proceeds to interpret and explain it in terms of dreams. We go from knowing better than Sir Gawain to being even more lost than he is, as he fluctuates between feeling like a closely watched companion and a distant figure untethered from anyone and everyone. This filmic experience is relentless, and so our viewership must in some way relent.

We give up our expectations, our boundaries for what we hope to see from a story like Sir Gawain’s, and in turn the film provides us with the rich beauty, horror, elation, and desperation that the story possesses at its core—a more than worthwhile exchange. Like the greatest movies, The Green Knight could indeed only exist as a movie, even being an adaptation of legendary source material, as each minute allows it to unsheathe a new weapon in its exclusively cinematic arsenal. Sceneries are pierced by impossibly poignant colors, sounds of impeccably earthy timbre cut through the sound design… it’s an accomplishment to behold.

The Green Knight’s unforgiving, uncompromising imagery is where its inherent vices and virtues battle and trust me when I call its victories “spectacular.” The film maintains a pleasing beauty throughout, but still manages several individual moments that stick out as just visually peerless (the Red Spring swim and its initial dive, the entrance to the Green Chapel…), reminding us of the undeniable firepower in the cinematography. The film never ceases to be engaging, whether by brooding in melancholy or drifting off into some spiritual realm.

Speaking of which, the supernatural aspects of the film (reasonably originating from the source narrative) were handled in a very interesting way. The magical elements of the story are not made gimmicky or trivialized to “summer vibes,” but instead hold weight, confronting and challenging the viewer rather than beguiling them.

The enchanted and enchanting Green Knight of the title delivers all the mystique such a legendary figure warrants. It feels weird to note his “screen presence,” but he arrests his scenes so surreally even before the film gets its dreamiest. His symbolic nature is firmly planted in the immediate and the abstract—like anything in this film—and Gawain’s “obtaining the Red from the Green” makes the objective of his quest clear: obtaining the Green from the Red. He must obtain rebirth, purity, and persistence… in the face of death, indulgence, and cowardice. This journey and its combination of raw reality and mind-bending spirituality reminded me of one of my all-time ALL-TIME favorite films… Andrei Rublev. An A24 movie reminded me of Andrei Rublev.

Dev Patel is believable as Sir Gawain on an emotional, physical, and narrative level, and his casting feels like a real blessing. I’ve only ever seen him in The Newsroom and this is of course an entirely different role he nailed just the same, making the Christian journey of the original story feel universal and encouraging even with everything hindering an easy understanding of it. All of the performances are impeccable, and contribute to the atmosphere as well as the imagery and pacing do, and it’s clear director David Lowery has ventured into masterwork territory with this film. The only other film I’d seen of his was A Ghost Story, which couldn’t decide whether to depict the concept of dying realistically or surrealistically, opting for both in a (what I believed to be) muddled compromise. I felt like the mom from Shy People wanting the movie to run hot or cold but not lukewarm. The Green Knight abandons compromise for better or worse, but mostly for better, diving into every feeling it conjures, with its moments of reality present only to authenticate the source of the dreams, not to take us out of them. 

There’s this feeling I get—as I’m sure most people do as well—after long trips, where upon homecoming everything familiar feels unfamiliar. It dawns on me that being away so long had subconsciously caused me to adapt my routine and bearings ever so subtly but so effectively. This was the feeling I got after coming home from the theater—my first time since February 2020—except I’d of course only been gone a couple hours. This is the power of the art of movies. The Green Knight is a most mature and complex adventure, an understated behemoth which is impossible to recommend to strangers… but I do so admire the impression it has made on me. It entices and irks, comforts and disturbs, inspires and convicts, and in all these it astonishes. 

Note to self: this movie has been compared to “Dark Souls.” Learn more about “Dark Souls.”

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