The Green Knight is a medieval-fantasy drama written, directed, produced, and edited by David Lowery who, unlike his fictional brother Mike Lowrey, does not spent his nights driving fast cars and walking slowly away from explosions; instead, he spends his nights (presumably) reading old English poems about legends and coming up with weird, poignant, and engaging reimagining’s for the big screen. As with the original poem, The Green Knight is the story of sir Gawain, nephew of King Arthur, who on a fateful Christmas accepts a deal from a giant, green knight; while the original poem is well worth a customary search and read, the movie adaptation is far weirder and different. It has many readings and many interesting themes to explore, but above all, it is a brilliant movie to experience and I can’t recommend it enough.
I knew nothing about the movie and the only reason I was interested in it was due to the high praise it has received since it opened in theaters; for that reason, I’ll only give a short pitch of what the movie is about and will refrain from revealing anything about the story overall. Starring Dev Patel as sir Gawain, alongside Alicia Vikander, Sarita Choudhury, Sean Harris, Kate Dickie, and some other surprises I won’t spoil, this version of The Green Knight has sir Gawain start the tale as a drunk, eager-to-impress nephew of a sickly and weak King Arthur; on Christmas, a giant green knight stops the celebrations to offer a willing knight a deal: A duel where, the strike blown to him would be returned in the same manner in a year in the Green Chapel.
While the story as a whole is followed closely, Lowery’s version of the poem is far weirder and interesting than most adaptations of the poem (that I’ve experienced) have been thus far. It engages with similar themes, but adds so much more with adaptations of other tales intergraded in this one or from entirely new themes explored, however what will stick with anyone regardless of what they thought of the writing or the adaptation will be the audiovisual experience. Lowery is a brilliant visionary, in the sense that his vision of how this movie should look is engrossing from the first frame until the last; his interesting use of colors, of trippy imagery, and immaculate positioning of characters, background, objects, and scenery is something worth a trip to the movies on its own. Add to this the excellent score by Daniel Hart and you have a movie experience that justifies a trip to the movies and is the best way to experience this tale. The magic happens when you add both together; that combination makes for an experience that just begs for the audience to interpret every minute detail and decision made, comparing and contrasting to the previous scenes or the established themes.
Having said that, the performances and the writing are the standouts in my opinion; Dev Patel, in particular does his best job since Slumdog Millionaire. He effortlessly (which means it took a lot of work and dedication) convinces the audience about his character and translates what he feels and who he is to the audience; it’s a role that everything else relies on and Patel not only carries those expectations, but flourishes under that weight. In addition, the rest of the cast deliver performances par with their usual high standards; Dev Patel surprised me because I haven’t always connected with his performances, but I’ve come to expect the likes of Alicia Vikander and Sean Harris to deliver high quality and they don’t disappoint.
A lot of that has to do with what they are given; Lowery delivers on the audiovisual aspects as a director and keeping everyone on the same page, while giving the right instructions for the experience to work as it does. But, given that he is also credited with the adaptation of the poem, he’s also responsible for the best part of the movie as well; the writing. Writing is as vague as terms come when talking about movies; it can range from inconsequential dialogue to unseen backstory of characters, to script-writing and plot outlines, but what I’m referring to specifically here is the beautiful and effective way the movie weaves themes in and out of sharp focus and allows the audience to keep up with that side (on a first viewing as well), while not becoming pretentious or preachy. That’s not to say that other written work is lower quality, but in a movie that decides to be more “artistic” and tackle more themes, while also keeping true to the original poem and be comprehensible enough to be mostly grasped from the first viewing is a great achievement. Lowery tackles similar themes to the original poem, such as (depending on your interpretation of both items) faith and nature coming into conflict with humanity, but there is so much more added. In the original poem sir Gawain’s story has a definitive ending and the journey there is much more abstract and symbolical, but Lowery’s version is “wider” in scope; it deals with the relentless pursuit of legacy and greatness, the looming and definitive fight against time (more specifically death) that we are certain to lose and more certain to fight regardless. There’s so much more that can be gleamed like, in my case, I was captivated by the idea of deals that always seem to go awry due to human nature; the Green Knight offers sir Gawain a deal that can be beneficial for both, but greed and a lust for greatness changes this; at a certain point, a lady makes a plea to sir Gawain yet he asks what he gains from it (despite knowing her true form and the potential cost of striking a deal with her). It’s a fascinating movie to see because of its strong performances and brilliant direction, but it’s even more fascinating to think about.