I haven’t done a lot of reviews on my blog before, but I felt it would be a disservice not to talk about David Lowery’s The Green Knight. The reason I want to talk about this movie is because of not only the way in which it is depicted but also how, if I had watched this movie as my younger self, I don’t think I would have been able to appreciate just how much thought was put into both the delivery and the emphasis applied to the basis and source material upon which the story is been based on.
The premise of the story is about Sir Gawain—a man who finds himself surrounded by Arthurian myths and legends of men whose stories have been praised into memory so great are their deeds. On the eve of Christmas the characters make merry and revel in each other’s company. A lull in the festivities ensues and Arthur Pendragon the king of Britain asks his knights of the round to provide entertainment in the form of a feat or tale. Upon his proclamation, an ominous knock at the doors of his hall can be heard and upon their opening, a dark hulking figure rides in on a horse. This figure is the Green Knight played by Ralph Ineson who holds a branch of holly above his head symbolizing peace and goodwill. He strides in and announces to Arthur he would like to play a game. A man may strike a blow on him and it shall be repaid in full in one year’s time. Sir Gawain, who has not yet proven himself (depicted effortlessly by Dev Patel), rushes to defend his lord and announces he shall do the deed. He strikes the head off of the Green Knight with one strike and as he turns around, victorious in his accomplishment, the Green Knight stands up picking his head up off the floor, and announces that in one year hence he shall repay the blow in full. So does the story carry on following Gawain’s travels as he proves himself to be not only a knight but to have stories to tell of himself discovering who he is as he sets out on his quest?
So why should you watch this movie? Why should you care about some 14th-century romantic poem? That is probably what you’re asking. But if that’s what you are coming into this movie with, expectations of how you think a medieval knight’s movie should go? You’ve missed the essence of what this movie is trying to portray. You shouldn’t be asking why should I watch this movie? Because this movie wasn’t made with expectations of what an audience would think.
I recently watched a Hot-Ones episode on Matt Damon and he gave some insight into how movies are made and produced, and what goes into the thought process of how successful a movie will be. And I think when they pitched the idea for this movie it was more on the back of the director rather than what can be gained from making this movie financially. It’s a movie whose director you can see has a passion for this kind of story and what it represents. It’s like a Wes Anderson or Quentin Tarantino film in a way, it has its own unique flair and it’s not trying to sell you something. Instead, it shows you what it is and asks you to accept it as it is: beautiful.
The Green Knight is hard to explain, but the best way I can relate it to you is if you have ever been in a place by yourself and all of a sudden something clicks? And you feel grateful for being there and everything around you that was muted becomes livened with new meaning and life. That’s how The Green Knight made me feel. I had no expectations coming in and I was subsequently swept away. It was a journey in the highest sense of the word. Lowery really was able to capture the essence of the olden time themes and he asks such beautiful questions along the way. Things that nowadays have become greyed and lost altogether. Through Gawain we see ourselves and we ask questions on what it means to have to prove ourselves to those who we look up to? It asks us what love, romance, honor, and chivalry are? And why those things are important? It asks us to think about moral codes and what it means to stay true to what we believe and feel? Especially now in our world where we no longer find those things relevant anymore.
But the best and most wonderful thing I found about this movie is how it progresses. It’s almost incoherent in its telling but in the best way possible. It reminds me of a time when stories could be stories. So often these days stories need to link to everything around us. They need meanings that have to be explained in detail and checked and rechecked and questioned and organized so that everyone can chew them, swallow and spew out their thoughts on how it tasted to them.
The Green Knight, much like a lot of stories written before my time, told individual stories that were tenuously linked together by a common theme such as love or honor. And I think that is one of The Green Knight’s greatest strengths. It tells stories within stories that don’t need to mean anything. We can find links and symbols sure, but the essence of the stories themselves are alone, they are independent of those around them and I love that. I miss the days when stories were told for the sake of the story, not for how they can be built into a network of other spinoffs, prequels, and other memorabilia. I think it is these pockets of tales in the movie itself that really allow Sir Gawain to find out who he is and because we don’t need to look too deeply into each tale we can appreciate how each snippet is presented. It regals an adventure not only beautifully portrayed by the varied and extensive cast but also by the motifs and color palette strewn across the entirety of the film.
GOD that color palette is glorious!
So watch The Green Knight or don’t. I think the beauty of this movie is that it wasn’t created to be sold, it was created to show something to us. Like it’s source material The Green Knight is a journey and like Sir Gawain we the audience are swept up through the seasons and spun around its world. It is thrilling but quiet, yet most importantly it is thought-provoking. It asks us to think further about what is being seen in a very unobtrusive way.
So if you get anything from this post I ask of you only this: watch it or don’t watch it. But if you do, don’t come in with expectations. Instead, allow it to tell its stories. Be swept away by the journey, because that is what The Green Knight‘s essence is.
It’s a tale of a man seeking to find himself, and upon undertaking this journey he discovers what it means to live along the way.