The Green Knight

The Green Knight ★★★★

My second favorite move that I’ve seen this year. I really enjoyed this experience and feel that there is much to commend and think about in Gawain and the Green Knight.

The central theme of this film is one boy’s journey of self-discovery from youth to adulthood, spurred on by his mother Morgan’s game that summons a mystical Green Knight to Arthur’s court on Christmas Day. David Lowery’s film tells this adventure story in a patient meandering way which leaves plenty of space for the audience to enjoy its singular aesthetic and vibe while considering how the various fantastical steps along this journey contribute to Gawain’s growth toward knighthood. 

Lowery is never obvious and always nuanced, but his mosaic approach to story telling provides a rich text for considering how growth, failure, perseverance, and ambition all must be reckoned with as our protagonist leaves youth and enters adulthood. One clear example of this ambiguity is one scene in the chapter titled “interlude” where Gawain encounters giants roaming north in the countryside. While the film offers no clear explanation of their presence, I couldn’t help but think that in some way they represented Gawain’s own need to understand his size and role in the universe. My interpretation is only one possible way this scene could affect someone, but the beauty of the film is that this scene and many others support various possible interpretations, while seamlessly contributing to Lowery’s vision of this visual story. 

Of course another aspect of this movie that made it a rich text was it’s relationship to the source. I thought the film honored the original by offering a modern interpretation of its ancient themes. In both versions Gawain must learn the rules of the game, fails to do so, but learns that only through owning his failures can he truly live according to the expectations of knighthood. In the original, he wears the sash as a reminder of his failure and a sign of his responsibility; in this version he finally learns to take it off and resist the allure of a false protection. It’s my sense after seeing the film that despite Lowery’s artistically truncated ending, one can read chapter 5 of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight to find out how it really ended.

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