The quixotic opening shots of David lowery‘s The green knight set the tone for his unique account of the Arthurian legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Outside a window, we can see a burning house and a couple parting ways. It is a complete story in miniature that shows the need to face adversity in the face of certain death. We then retreat and meet Sir Gawain, a man who by his own admission has no stories to tell, and throughout his journey we see Lowery carefully explore what it means to live with honor when the only constants in this world are nature and death. Rather than a brave and aspiring knight overcoming challenges, the episodic story unfolds with temptations and failures, of life collapsing on Gawain in a world filled with eerie dread and unknowable results. It is a wonderful film work by one of the best directors working today, and a darkly beautiful statement on life itself.
GawainDev patel) is the nephew of King Arthur (Sean Harris), and as he aspires to some glory for himself and his beloved Essel (Alicia vikander), it doesn’t have great stories of its own. The opportunity presents itself when the Green Knight (Ralph Ineson), a hulking mass that appears to be carved out of a tree, arrives on Christmas Day with a challenge: strike him down and the Knight will strike back a year from now. Gawain, seeing the opportunity for glory, beheads the Green Knight only to have the Knight’s body raise its severed head, reiterating that Gawain must now come to the Green Chapel in a year where the blow will be struck back. The year passes quickly and then Gawain goes out to face his challenge where he meets those who can help or hinder his journey.
These plot rhythms don’t do justice to what Lowery is doing with his film, which is consistently mind-blowing and constantly wrestles with notions of mortality, legacy, and destiny. For example, in one scene, thieves attack Gawain, tie him up, and leave him to die. Rather than simply cutting into his escape, Lowery reflects on this moment. The camera moves in slow, deliberate motion away from Gawain’s struggling body and slowly rotates 360 degrees in the forest around him until he returns to Gawain, now depicted as a skelton, still bound and gagged. Then the pan recedes until we return to the fighter Gawain, still alive. Through this simple technique, Lowery has shown us Gawain’s fears without having to express them. Some may be confused by this circumspect narrative, but it all serves to dive deeper into Gawain’s story and mindset, avoiding direct exposure.
Deliberate touches like this add to the surreal, almost dreamlike feel of The green knightAnd yet Lowery never goes so far as to lose sight of the plot, the stakes, or the character of Gawain. Yes, The green knight it’s a “weird” movie in the sense that it’s unconventional, but that doesn’t make it any less poignant. Lowery has fused Middle English ideas of chivalric romance with an almost postmodern sensibility, never reflecting on the nature of the story itself, and yet the Green Knight’s invitation seems to come from the narrative itself as conjured through Gawain. mother (Sarita choudhury). From here, the images take on a distinctly modern twist, not through hyperediting or heavy visuals, but through mindful application. Lowery knows that we are watching a myth unfold, and he walks the delicate tightrope between acknowledging that myth and treating it as reality.
He is able to handle this feat thanks in large part to Patel’s performance. In lower hands, Gawain simply becomes a cipher, a blank slate onto which to project the film’s broader themes. But through Patel, we get a sincere and deeply understanding look at Gawain as a man who is not necessarily “naive” as much as he is simply young and untested. He’s eager to prove himself, and yet that enthusiasm and acting like a gentleman shows the distance between who he is and who he aspires to be. That chasm is key to the film because it is actually the biggest conflict: what is the difference between glory and honor? Before Gawain ventures out, Essel asks him, “Why the greatness? Is not kindness enough? It’s a lesson Gawain must learn if he wants to stop playing knight and be one.
Diving into this exploration of honor, Lowery does the original text justice while bringing it to life for a new audience who may find that concept outdated. After all, the phrase “chivalry is dead” comes to us because we believe that in a modern world there is no place for it, and what we do see is nothing more than gallant cordiality. But in The green knight, honor takes on much grander connotations when Lowery shows us that this is how we know the world despite the chaos and indifference it presents to us. The only sure thing is death; Since death is certain and will come to all of us in time, what is the use of living with honor? Is it simply to tell a great story? Is it for the glory? Is it for longevity? What does The green knight So brilliant is it that Lowery’s adaptation sets Gawain on a quest that even he doesn’t fully understand. He knows what his quest requires him to do, but he doesn’t understand what it means, and through Gawain’s exploits, we gain a better understanding of our own condition and how we would seek to live.
The green knight it is an amazing film, rich in its images, its narration and its themes. For a filmmaker who constantly challenges himself and finds humanistic values regardless of gender, The green knight It’s a crowning achievement for Lowery, and one that demands to be seen. It’s a challenging movie, but one in which those who choose to meet those challenges and commit to the material will be greatly rewarded with a story that has stood the test of time and with a movie that I believe will do the same.
The green knight opens in theaters on July 30.
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