The Arthurian legends from the Middle Ages are some of the stories from which the stories we now know and love were built, and throughout the sparse, meditative epic that is The Green Knight, you can really see why. The young hero has a challenge, he is tested along the way, and he tries to prove himself to be brave.
Directed by David Lowery (most well-known for Disney’s Pete’s Dragon), The Green Knight is based off of the 14-century poem “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” Described as a “Middle English chivalric romance,” the tale follows Sir Gawain, the nephew of King Arthur and a young knight sitting at the legendary Round Table.
Gawain is inexperienced and naive, hence the cheeky “green knight” title, until a mysteriously large Tree-Man arrives on Christmas Day to offer a challenge. The stranger, referred to as “The Green Knight,” asks if any knight were to dare to strike him, knowing that he would return the blow in one year’s time. Gawain, seeking honor among legends, accepts the challenge and decapitates The Green Knight. All is not as it seems, however, as the beheaded body of The Green Knight picks up his head and maniacally laughs his way out the hall, reminding Gawain that he will return the blow in one year, as promised.
Starring Dev Patel (Lion, Slumdog Millionaire) as Sir Gawain, the fun begins when he sets out on his quest to meet the Green Knight and discover his fate. All the little tests and potential lessons that can be gleaned throughout his journey make up the crux of the film, but The Green Knight is an interesting one in that there’s a lot to learn but the meanings are very ambiguous. The Green Knight could be about the downfall of man’s pride–a fable that laughs at the idea of “the Knight’s code” really standing for anything. At the same time, it could also mean the opposite. Falling on Christmas day, it could be a Christian story about salvation, and the importance of honesty over deceit and cowardice.
The Green Knight doesn’t really care either way. If the challenge is a trick, you’re as good as dead, but if you prove yourself and pass, then I guess good job. You get to keep being alive and that’s pretty much it. Some may find that logic really disappointing in viewing The Green Knight, feeling lost in what they’re watching or just unrewarded for doing so, but that’s also the exact material The Green Knight is exploring.
Throughout contemplative cinematography and excellent sound design, The Green Knight’s Sir Gawain doesn’t have to descend into hell to save a loved one or vanquish some terrible beast. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. He just has to figure out what it would take in this world for him to be proud of himself, or at the very least what it would take for him to be able to live with himself.
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