The Green Knight is a poem with a long and sprawling history. With an undiscovered author and three different translations for the English language, the tale of Sir Gawain and his quest for honor is iconic in English literature. Now, director David Lowery takes this opportunity to adapt to the big screen and doesn’t waste it. The Green Knight is an ethereal experience from beginning to end. The film cleverly takes the poem and weaves a sensual coming-of-age tale that takes what could’ve been a cliche adventure film and turns the formula on its head. The end product captures the mystical and ominous feelings of the poem perfectly.
No other director other than Lowery could have been trusted with the source material. Writing and directing, Lowery takes a work of art he clearly admires and sculpts it into his vision. What results is a Green Knight tale that takes some creative liberties on the surface, but dig a little deeper and you can see resonant themes of mortality, courage, and honor in Lowery’s direction and writing in the same vein of the poem. Sir Gawain (Dev Patel), at the behest of his own pride, accepts the challenge of the Green Knight with implications of an inevitable demise for himself. What follows is Gawain’s coming-of-age quest with nothing less but his honor and possibly his life at stake.
However, Gawain’s journey isn’t at all what he expects it to be. The audience is treated to the same jarring change of status quo that Gawain feels. Moreover, The Green Knight immerses thanks to incredible production design and cinematography. From King Arthur’s domain to the lands outside of it, the world feels as lived in as can be. The moment Gawain steps into the outside world, the perspective of the camera and the audience feels so much wider.
The production team behind The Green Knight should be proud. From costumes to sets, the intricate detail in every crevice of the film never ceases to amaze. Cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo does justice to every detail with his compositions and camera work. The end result is without a doubt Lowery’s most gorgeous film. The massive landscapes and beautiful scenery are put to amazing use, giving an epic and large-scale feel even in the film’s most intimate moments.
And intimate the film indeed is. Exploring what honor means to Gawain, it goes without saying that Gawain’s relationships with others are at the heart of the story. Thus, the close examination of his feelings and physical interactions with others play a big role in his exploration of truth and what he really values in life. A beautiful sentiment translated perfectly on the screen by Lowery.
Lowery takes several major story points from the poem and adds a different sensuality to them. Moreover, Lowery takes the character of Gawain and gives him more flaws. Overall, just a little bit more humanity and nuance. Gone is the righteous pure of heart Gawain and here is a character who makes mistakes and struggles with his identity. Patel delivers this nuance perfectly with a monumental performance. Never has a character as flawed as this still manages to show himself to be as pure of heart as Gawain in The Green Knight.
The titular character, although so very briefly in the film, still manages to have a looming presence throughout the entirety of the runtime. The Green Knight doesn’t have to be on the screen to make you know he is there. Gawain’s initial meeting with him is iconic, and Ralph Ineson plays him menacingly. From that point on his ominous promise for a rematch hangs over everyone like a dark cloud.
However, to get to that inevitable confrontation Gawain’s journey takes him far across the land. The trials and tribulations the Knight-to-be goes through are as fascinating as they are surreal. Each experience leaves Gawain a little more confused, but also wiser. These otherworldly encounters are only as impactful as they are because of the supporting cast. Alicia Vikander, Barry Keoghan, Erin Kellyman, and Joel Edgerton are among the standouts. Patel’s chemistry with everyone in this film makes each interaction and life lesson feel genuine.
I would be amiss to not mention Daniel Hart’s enchanting score. Hypnotic strings, bells, and more are incorporated to give The Green Knight an emotionally hefty score to pair well with its characters and story. Beautiful harmonic choruses are abundant and are a cherry on top of an already pristine production from a technical standpoint. Story-wise, a small complaint could be made in regards to pacing. However, that small bump in the grand narrative is hardly anything to complain about.
This isn’t a typical fantasy outing here, either. While there is indeed an epic quest for honor at hand, there are more philosophical musings and what honor is about than there are sword fights. That’s OK, though, because The Green Knight is more interested in why these characters are doing what they are as supposed to how they do it. Because of that, we have an interesting tale that Lowery weaves in and out of seamlessly. Done with impressive editing and mystical transitions, camera, and light work.
The end result is a truly special film. One that tells the story of a man who goes looking to lose his life, but ends up finding it. In a world where honor is everything, The Green Knight looks to explore what that really means in regards to a person’s character, and integrity. It’s a fantastical film and one of the best of the year. – Ernesto Valenzuela
The Green Knight is now playing in theaters.