We often hear that there are no new ideas in movies. In an era of endless remakes and reboots, it’s not easy to deny that fact. The Green Knight is an adaptation of a story that is over 800 years old. It is also a story that feels right at home in our time of entire generations seeking fame and glory.
The Green Knight
Director: David Lowery
Release Date: July 30, 2021
The Green Knight is a modern adaptation of the epic poem Sir Gawain And The Greene Knight. From the opening moments as a narrator sets the stage as an effigy of Sir Gawain is crowned and burned, you know you’re in for an artistic take on the source material.
Sir Gawain (Dev Patel), not yet a knight in this version, longs to be held in similar regard to his uncle, the storied knight Arthur (Sean Harris). Rather quickly, the eponymous Green Knight, an enemy of Camelot summoned by witches, shows up at Christmas celebrations to offer a game. The Green Knight will allow any of the men to land a single blow on him if he is allowed to return the favor a year later. Seeing it as a way to fame and knighthood, Gawain accepts the Green Knight’s offer. Of course, everything is not as it seems and so begins a short year in the life of Sir Gawain.
Knowing the director’s previous work (A Ghost Story), it is probably fairly obvious that this isn’t an action movie. Eschewing the assumed bravado of an Arthurian legend, Lowery is more concerned with how Gawain is, rather than what he is doing. For the most part, it works. Through Patel’s subtle looks, the weight of what’s to come for him at the end of the year is conveyed beautifully. You can tell he regrets his decision, but still enjoys some of the benefits. The movie starts to lose its footing a bit during the few action scenes, excluding the opening interaction of Gawain and the Green Knight which is tense and tightly paced. The other action scenes feel mostly flat and I don’t know if that is done intentionally to subvert expectations or is just a shortcoming.
While it may not be an action movie, it is absolutely beautiful and awe-inspiring. The outdoor scenes are filled with sweeping shots of the English countryside, while the interiors are lit with striking uses of light that make the movie feel somewhere between a play and a fever dream. It’s moody and artsy, which for some might be a turn-off, but for me, it worked spectacularly.
The story feels remarkably prescient in
2020 2021 where everyone is trying to make viral content and become the next TikTok star. In the beginning, Gawain is obsessed with his legacy and image, which pushes him to rise to the challenge of the Green Knight, despite the warnings of those around him. It doesn’t feel like the movie was made with wagging fingers warning teenagers to not approach their own Green Knight but it is hard to deny that there isn’t a bit of social media and its pitfalls present.
The movie utilizes an episodic structure of sorts that fits the epic poem genre well, but at times can make for a disjointed experience. It’s very clearly Gawain’s story, and Patel rises to the occasion splendidly, but because of the episodic feel, some of the side characters fall a bit flat. Again, I don’t know if that’s intentional because of the source material but in the context of a movie it stands out. It’s especially noticeable when you have such a high caliber of actors like Katie Dickie who are reduced to only a few lines through the entire movie.
In a way, the movie felt like I was following an ultra-high-budget tabletop role-playing game. I think that is exactly what the studio was going for, as they released a tabletop version of the movie in the pre-pandemic lead-up to the original release date of May 2020. The overall experience was definitely worth the journey for me, and it cannot be denied that Lowery is confident in his vision. I just wonder if this will miss the mark for some people who go in with no knowledge of the director’s previous work.