The Green Knight, 2021.
Written and Directed by David Lowery.
Starring Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sarita Choudhury, Sean Harris, Kate Dickie, Barry Keoghan, Erin Kellyman, and Ralph Ineson.
A fantasy re-telling of the medieval story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
With no shame, I will confess that I’m not sure I understood everything going on in The Green Knight (David Lowery, writer and director of the masterful A Ghost Story, adapting for the screen the poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight), the basic premise and quest itself is straightforward enough to grasp and get invested in, which is accentuated by distinctive costume design, ominous and foreboding style, Daniel Hart’s lively folk score, and colorful characters along the way.
Dev Patel is Gawain, a noble young man with no heroic stories of himself to tell, as made apparent when the King (Sean Harris) wishes to hear a tale on Christmas day. Enter the titular Green Knight (Ralph Ineson with a modified and deliciously evil voice), riding in on horseback with a giant ax in hand. He declares something called a Christmas Game, challenging various attendees at the celebratory gathering (including the Knights of the Round Table) to try landing a blow against him. If someone can, they will earn some degree of notoriety, although with a caveat stating that the striker must travel across the lands to the Green Knight’s green chapel to return the favor within one year.
Naturally, Gawain seizes the opportunity, which turns out to be inexplicably easy as he immediately chops off the head of the Green Knight, who practically turned into a stone statue waiting for the sword to decapitate him. Following that, he picks up his own head while reminding Gawain of what now awaits his future in one year, before departing into the thick fogs that permeate the frequently striking landscapes. From there, David Lowery flashes things forward nearly an entire year, where puppet shows now reenact the event, and Gawain is something of a local celebrity.
It’s never made entirely clear what will happen if Gawain doesn’t seek out the green chapel in one year, but there’s a dialogue exchange with his girlfriend of a lower social class Essel (Alicia Vikander, who also shows up playing another character, later on, always making the most of her limited screen time) who asks her flame why he strives to be a great man and why he can’t just settle for good. It’s clear that The Green Knight is thematically about honor and fame, although the execution seems to be condemning that mindset as a fool’s errand and something unnecessary. David Lowery seems to be taking down a notch those that seek out a grander legacy to stand the test of time, one that presumably doesn’t have much to do with loved ones. That assuredly aligns with the thrilling finale that is unlike what one might be expecting, but something undeniably absorbing and incredible to behold all the same.
With a running time of 135 minutes, much of The Green Knight centers on the adventure itself, where Gawain comes across many intriguing random travelers. They range from a manipulative thief played by Barry Keoghan (who seems to be making one hell of a career for himself embodying nasty characters), a woman that may or may not be a spirit searching for something I won’t reveal, a companion fox (with some devilish surprises in-store), and a Lord played by Joel Edgerton whose wife can’t resist trying to seduce Gawain. When our hero is alone, the screen is usually populated by rich cinematography or sites to behold, such as literal giants roaming the world. The Green Knight is assuredly a slow burn, mitigated by the fact that there’s usually always something transfixing and vaguely odd occurring on screen.
That said, some segments do occasionally feel like they drag, and the film is always at its most irresistibly compelling when antagonistic Green Knight is playing head games, literally and metaphorically. The journey leaves a lot to digest and unpack, but at face value, The Green Knight tells an enthrallingly hypnotic cautionary tale about honor, packed with some of the most potent acting and craftsmanship likely to be seen in a film all year. It’s also easy to say with great confidence that the experience probably only gets more rewarding with subsequent viewings.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com