The Green Knight starring Dev Patel as its main character is a medieval fantasy drama that tells the journey of a young knight named Gawain who has to face his destiny.
*This review spoils the story of The Green Knight.*
The Green Knight is based on an Arthurian legend. Sir Gawain and The Green Knight is a 14th-century anonymous poem. Gawain is the son of Morgan le Fay, King Arthur’s sister. Morgan le Fay is a well-known witch in Arthurian legends.
In Sir Gawain and The Green Knight poetry, a mysterious figure by the name of The Green Knight arrives at the Knights Roundtable on Christmas and proposes a challenge.
A knight shall behead him and on the next Christmas, that knight shall come to The Green Chapel and take that exact blow. Sir Gawain accepts the challenge and most of the poetry tells his journey through Camelot until he reaches The Green Chapel.
The Green Knight stays faithful to its origins. Not only on the basis of the story, but music, literature, and calligraphy. The first thing that grabs the attention of the viewer in The Green Knight is its medieval music. Daniel Hart, who worked with David Lowery before, did a fantastic job of making the music of this film in such a way to create a more authentic atmosphere.
One of the things you must understand before watching The Green Knight is that this movie is based on legends and myths. The setting and literature might suggest otherwise, but that’s the way the Arthurian legends are told. Don’t expect to see a realistic knighthood journey.
That being said, throughout the film, you have to believe in magic. Magic had an enormous influence on people in the 14th century. This magic was one of the most powerful elements in Arthurian legends. David Lowery doesn’t explain a lot of the stuff that’s happening throughout the film and has two reasons not to do so.
The first one is that even our knight, Gawain, doesn’t know what’s going on. The next one is that back in those days people’s belief in magic was so strong that if anything, real or unreal, happened they would presume it’s magic.
Everything in the movie is based on The Green Knight poem and the culture and belief system that was around those times. One of the things is omens. The Green Knight is full of omens. For instance, at the beginning of the film, Gawain jumps over the roundtable and spills the wine all over the table, and fills the calligraphy that has been carved in the table. With good lighting, it looks like blood has been spilled over the table.
Bear in mind that The Green Knight is a slow-paced movie. Since it was adopted from Sir Gawain’s poem, all the things in the movie look like poetry. The cinematography and camera movement look as if David Lowery tries to copy everything in the poetry, not only adopt it.
But sometimes it’s too slow-paced. It’s a journey throughout which you have to think a lot instead of just watch fight scenes, and that does require slow-paced storytelling. But in some places, it’s unnecessarily slow. Especially the scene where he meets the Lord and his wife. That scene could be shorter or have a little more pace.
Andre Droz Palermo is the cinematographer of The Green Knight and also worked with David Lowery before on Ghost Story. More than half of the film we are in nature. Underwater, in forests, on mountains. Most of the time, The Green Knight’s cinematography reminded me of The Revenant. Especially the scenes where Sir Gawain walks through the woods.
One of the things I found fascinating was that the film had multiple endings. You might not notice it at first but till the end of the movie, Gawain dies many times. At first in the forest, then in the lake, and finally when he escapes from The Green Knight.
Let me put it like this: if you stop watching the movie at each of these deaths, the movie would end. For instance, when you tell the story you would say he started his journey but wasn’t strong enough and starved to death. Or he wasn’t a good swimmer and died in the lake. Or he wasn’t brave enough to take the blow. No matter which of these you choose, the story would end.
Showing the journey as a pilgrimage was what changed this movie from a simple journey film to a great deep intellectual movie. Like most movies, the journey of a knight is filled with fighting, survival, and bravery. But The Green Knight is all about mindset. It’s about embracing the ups and downs of life with the mind, not by the sword.
As it’s a pilgrimage, we see many things that will not be explained in the film. You might get confused and that is the point. For instance, there is a scene where Gawain sees these gigantic creatures. As most pilgrims, no matter how hard Gawain or the poet explain, you wouldn’t understand. You can only understand it by experiencing them by yourself.
Dev Patel who plays the role of Gawain was the best choice for the role. Patel again shows off his acting skills. Showing your emotions is not that difficult in movies, but having them and then cutting them off is the hard part. And Patel does that beautifully.
That’s what the ending is all about. You can be the greatest and most powerful man on Earth, but no matter how hard you try, you cannot escape death. Death is the symbol of everything inevitable about life. No matter what you are or who you are, there are certain things you cannot overcome but only embrace.
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The Green Knight is by far one of the best films released this year. It’s a slow-paced poetical journey with great music and cinematography. The movie stays loyal to everything in the 14th century, including how they talk and act. Dev Patel did a wonderful job of portraying Sir Gawain. You can have many interpretations about the film and all of them could be true. In some scenes, the slow-placed storytelling can disturb the experience of watching the film.