The Arthurian legend is rightly popular with filmmakers, series creators, and even game developers. It is an essential fantasy, or more precisely, a great material for fantasy since there are more legends than historical facts in this mythology. The story of King Arthur and the knights of the roundtable was based on J. R. R. Tolkien himself when developing The Lord of the Rings, it is enough to think only of the character of the “returning king”, Aragorn, and the sword of Isildur, but many of his motifs can be recognized in the classic Star Wars since George Lucas drew from this myth, so Luke’s lightsaber is as much a modern version of Excalibur as it is of katana. Well, one of the unique filmmakers of our time, David Lowery (Elliott the Dragon, A Ghost Story), his latest work, The Green Knight, is completely out of touch with them, and there’s nothing else on the subject.
Arthur’s legend inspired many, and it was interpreted in many ways, as it allows for the opening of countless stories, depending on which part the creators focus on. John Boorman directed a bloody “film opera” called Excalibur, starring Sean Connery and Richard Gere, the first knight to amplify the melodrama line focusing on Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere’s love triangle. The Sam Neill and Helena Bonham Carter’s miniseries Merlin placed the king’s wizard mentor at the centre, Antoine Fuqua trying to reinterpret the myth in a historical context in 2004’s King Arthur.
Guy Ritchie directed a quasi-gangster film based on the legend of Daniel Pemberton’s hot music (King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword) and, of course, there is the Green Knight storey sharpened for Sir Gawain, the nephew of Arthur, from which a few adaptations were also made, one again starring Sean Connery (Camelot – Gawain and the Green Knight). You could go on with the line, but knowing The Green Knight, it’s not worth it because it’s a great author’s fantasy that’s surpassing everything, though not for everyone.
Lowery apparently, really only seemingly, adapted the 14th-century classic verse knight’s novel Sir Gawain and the Green Knight left to us by an unknown author. That is, The Green Knight has everything in the material. The story’s arc is the same, and it is roughly the same relationship between the characters, their proportion of their role in the plot, and their dramaturgical function. However, the devil is in the details again, that is, in all its flavours, literally a real author’s film was born, in which the directing, the visual concept of the creator and, of course, the once again convincing acting play of Dev Patel (Ghetto Millionaire, Lion)add a lot of extra content and meaning to the story, which is well known in the more Anglo-Saxon culture.
With David Lowery, Patel’s Sir Gawain isn’t even Sir, if his face is hairy. He’s a green knight in the sense that he’s a rookie, he’s got a life ahead of him, he doesn’t even know what to answer at the beginning of the plot at the request of the king (Sean Harris) and the Queen (Kate Dickie) to tell them an interesting story. There is no story yet. There are adventures ahead of him, or even just one adventure that makes him worthy to sit at Arthur’s roundtable, among the knights, not only because of his blood, origin but also for his courage. However, strict feudal hierarchy and norms prevent him from bringing his lover Essel (Alicia Vikander) to his side.
In any case, he is allowed to prove himself when an extremely bizarre creature, most defined as Groot’s horror version, the title character Green Knight (Ralph Ineson), rides into King Arthur’s roundtable on Christmas Day rather than New Year’s Day and invites the hopefully courageous men to play: anyone who dares to strike him agrees to meet him in a place called the Green Chapel in a year and a day, where the Knight himself can strike a similar blow. For understandable reasons, Arthur’s nobles are not very enthusiastic about the challenge. Still, the ambitious Gawain, who will be torn apart by the desire to prove himself, will come up with a trembling hand, even if he does not have his own sword to stand up to the stranger, who, instead of fighting, just kneels and waits for a blow. The head falls, and then, to everyone’s surprise, the two-hour ponder: does this rookie, aspiring boy dare to return the Great Axe of the Green Knight left with him, and who dares to make himself a possible deadly, perhaps survivable blow?
In the case of road movies, the trick is that it’s not the destination but the journey to the finish line that’s really important, and that’s true of The Green Knight, which, if you will, is a medieval, fantastic road movie, but instead of a cool car, our hero will start the great test on a horse. The assertion that the journey is most important also applies to the audiovisual implementation of the film. We mean that The Green Knight’s atomic sphere is great, and we feel that more than two hours of playing time is not enough compared to how much potential there is in this dark fantasy, how great an experience it is to immerse yourself in a world that is attractive and mysterious in its depressingness. No one is fooled by the trailers, which promise a very slow-paced art film that evokes the meditative atmosphere of the classics of Andrei Tarkovsky and Béla Tarr, David lowery’s work is not really like that!
The tempo is most reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings: The Ring Alliance, although it’s worth stressing once again that it’s a dark fantasy, so the green knight’s relationship with Peter Jackson’s film has blown out (well, we can think of the Green Knight resembling the talking tree). Lowery’s directing builds a world with a tight, competent, good sense, in which not only are there knights, but other fantastical creatures populate it, but we can guess that based on the look of the title character.
Some “anthem” episodes seem to not scroll through the story but only enhance the mood – one of which is the stunning, creepy and heartwarming sequence of Erin Kellyman’s character from Solo: A Star Wars Story and Soldier of the Falcon and Winter Soldier – but in fact they are an integral part of the film as it is about Gawain’s dramatic development. So there’s no need to worry about the trailers that David Lowery made a “navel-watching art film” out of the knight’s tale!
The ingenious colour symbolism of The Green Knight, a multiple-viewer creation, should be given a special word. The colours represent Gawain’s mood and the stances of his character development, which are not cut in our faces as intrusively by David Lowery as, say, by Oliver Stone in Alexander the Great, in the conqueror, but are closely intertwined with the act. He receives a special, magical green belt from the protagonist’s mother, Morgan le Fay (Sarita Choudhury). The Green Knight already carries the colour in his name, but around his patina adrimination placed on the ground, green moss grows in the throne room. At one point in the plot, one of the characters gives an almost offensively didactic interpretation of why green is the leading colour and how it relates to red, blood spilt as a result of the desiccation, as well as sexual desire, lust, the colour of which is also red.
But luckily, the symbolism of The Green Knight is complex enough to be interpreted in many ways, despite the oral interpretation of that episode. On the one hand, green symbolizes eternal renewal because as the grass is mowed down in the field and grows again, the severed head of the Green Knight is also returned to his body at the beginning of the film. On the other hand, green is a symbol of cowardice and desire in a rather negative sense. Gawain’s green magic belt from his mother is closely related to parental protection. That is, as long as the young man wears it, he is practically not an independent man standing on his own feet, but only a child who is trapped on the “protective wings” of the mother, and in the knowledge of the defence, our hero hopes to survive the affliction of the Green Knight, so that he can return home in glory, reassuring the laurels.
But what glory is it that he does not actually acquire, which he does not achieve on his own? How much will the knight or king who makes others do his “dirty work” appreciate or cheat? These are the main dilemmas in The Green Knight. It is becoming increasingly clear to the viewer what the real goal in this story is: getting rid of everything that prevents him from acting independently, becoming a “real man.”
In addition to green, there are many colours and motifs beyond themselves. For example, in one of the total images, the cross that forms the reverse cross could be the subject of separate analysis, so rich in The Green Knight in them. Let’s stress once again: David Lowery did not struggle to push them into the plot. Each logically follows Gawain’s evolutionary history. And one more thing: Lowery’s permanent composer Daniel Hart has done an excellent job again, and his sombre, goosebump-skinning soundtrack contributes greatly to The Green Knight’s unique, captivating atmosphere.
Although we have argued that David Lowery’s work is not a “navel-watching art film”, it is not a regular, traditional fantasy film, so it does not abound in battle scenes or carnage. No, The Green Knight is, in this sense, an art film or rather an author’s film because a very personal, reinterpreted version of the basic work unfolds, although let’s add that the knight’s novel itself does not abound in classic action scenes either. The main thing here is to reassess the atmosphere and the values derived from the medium, the myths, and to set them to the pellengér. In other words, the main question is the same as in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, what makes a knight a knight, what makes a man brave and honest, why is he even worthy of sitting at King Arthur’s roundtable.
However, this is only the surface of the extremely diverse, clearly watchable The Green Knight, as David Lowery has moved the centres of gravity a little differently. Gawain is not a classic hero. He bravely marches forward, who is actually “ready”. He just has to prove himself a hero again. No, Dev Patel’s character is not in this category. It’s pronounced that he’s not even a real knight. He’s not once called “Sir,” and it’s often questionable whether he’s even considered brave. In today’s slang term, he’s a real “wannabe,” which means he wants to be brave, he wants to face his fears and fears, but when the moment really comes, and even Green Knight doesn’t need it, he backs down over and over again, terrified. For this reason, he is not the typical identifying character. In fact, although the viewer goes with him during the plot, he can move away from him several times because of his cowardly manifestations or morally questionable actions.
There’s no need to think bad, David Lowery is a serious creator than bringing cheap and superficial, topical, “politically correct” motives to his film, so it’s not strong women who fall in contrast to Gawain, and even women are authentic, behaving like myth and basic work. But dark fantasy and quasi-medieval medium here or there, The Green Knight is, in a good way, a very “contemporary” story. Arthur’s world is not as fast-paced as ours. Still, Gawain is the very young man who could be the hero of our time: he does not have time to prepare well, he cannot assess the gravity of the task ahead, but he wants everything, glory, power, strength, knighthood, recognition of the king, so even without “expertise”, in some ways he begins with excessive self-confidence, or rather naivety, Maybe a deadly mission. The difference between the “hero of our time” and Gawain is that although the latter could easily rise the ranks because of his kinship with Arthur and his magical mother, he still feels that it takes more than protection, a real feat to take the throne.
In many ways, The Green Knight offers itself for analysis. Indeed its layers and possibilities for interpretation could be deciphered in separate writing. Again, there’s no need to think badly, David Lowery’s creation isn’t the typical art film that viewers are teasing about, that may be the creator himself doesn’t understand what it’s about! Lowery knew very well what the game was about. He also has a powerful interpretation that explains the outcome peculiarly (caution, spoiler, but we refer to exciting text here). The creator plays on ambiguity all the time, with several vision-like images or sequences of scenes (for example, an eerily brilliant montage sequence in the last third of the plot) in it, which is good because, in this way, not mouth-to-mouth, it makes the viewer not take the values, courage, chivalry, power and glory that appear in the story as a given, but think about them, the stakes, what is worth doing, and where is the limit where it should be stopped.
So The Green Knight is an excellent, thought-provoking dark fantasy, even a parabola that simultaneously pays homage to the basic work and reinterprets it. It is a pity for the few didactic, high-flying discussions that are heard in one or two scenes, especially in such a cleverly constructed, cinematic, so almost entirely image-telling work.
The Green Knight was unveiled overseas on July 30, 2021, debuted online on August 19, and can be rented from the distributor’s official website, A24.
- The Arthur legend in a whole new refraction
- Great and clever dark fantasy
- Great audiovisual implementation
- Great actors
- Layer film that can affect tiresome people brainily…
- … in some places, however, overinterpreted
Like his previous work, David Lowery has put together a concrete, special work in the form of The Green Knight, which is only a seemingly regular fantasy. Still, it is also a seemingly overturned art film. Neither, and both at the same time, but there’s no idle. Lowery shot the not-so-comical or unhurried tempo well, and with visual symbols perfectly embedded in the plot, Gawain’s developmental history, he tells the story of courage, honour, giving, lust for power, parent-child relationships, and many other topics worth thinking about, and for which it is definitely recommended to watch The Green Knight several times. To be sure, no such good adaptation of the Arthurian legend has ever been made, which can so sensually capture the contradiction of mysticism and values depicted in romance novels in this fantasy world.