The Green Knight

The Green Knight ★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

The Green Knight is an experience. Masterfully crafted, with stunning visuals and cinematography that make a painting out of each frame, and deliberate direction that elicits brilliance from each performance, particularly from Dev Patel and Alicia Vikander. It is an impressive feat, the crafting of a world that, as an Arthurian tale, feels almost familiar, but new, refreshing, and unlike any other legendary tale committed to cinema.

The story is, at a basic level, the journey, both emotional and physical, of a man, a warrior. He receives a challenge, which he accepts - for the sake of glory - but he fears the impending outcome of his decision. He embarks upon his journey where he encounters obstacles in the form of further challenges; a young man who tells him how to find his destination, but does not feel adequately compensated for his assistance, and thus, takes away the symbolic axe and horse, and breaks his shield. Symbolic because they are superficial protection, feeding into his ego and search for greatness. Without them, he is not a Knight - he never was a Knight - but without them he possesses no signifiers of knighthood. He continues on his journey, to be met with another obstacle; a woman who has lost her head and is in need of help in retrieving it. He accepts this challenge, though with the ulterior motive of getting something in return, and he succeeds and the axe is returned to him. Emboldened by the possession of this great weapon, he continues on his journey, and finds himself in the all too welcoming company of a Lord and Lady. The Lord asks that they strike a deal, an exchanging of gifts, that the Lord shall receive from Gawain whatever he gains within his castle. Gawain does not pass this test, he lies, choosing himself and his own protection. Instead he receives the reminder: “you are no Knight”. On he goes, these words ringing in his mind, telling him of who he is not, and of who he wants to be, towards his final challenge, the one around which the film revolves; his meeting with the Green Knight.

All that Gawain does, all the choices he makes, all his failures are in service of his motivations, of his desire to be somebody, to be revered as somebody. By the film’s close, Gawain has confronted his notion of greatness, his dreams of glory and celebration. The fantasy he sees before the axe takes his head from his body shows that glory is not all it is promised to be; it is lonely, and dark, and painful, and unfulfilling. With this, he accepts his fate. Greatness is not better than goodness.

Being a Knight is about honour, something which Gawain does not understand. It is demonstrated in his conversation with the Lord, in which he explains that what he wants most in life is to be a Knight, but honour is not inherently included in that title for him. It is the discovery of what being a Knight truly means that allows him to succumb to his fate. A Knight does not do what he does for glory, for celebration. A Knight is honourable. A Knight is a servant of state. A Knight is selfless. A Knight sacrifices himself willingly and without fear and pretence. A Knight is ready for whatever is thrown his way. By the film’s end, Gawain becomes a Knight in spirit. He is not Knighted, but in his acceptance of his fate, in his bravery, he becomes a Knight, before his End.

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