“THE GREEN KNIGHT”
Starring Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sarita Choudhury, Sean Harris, Ralph Ineson
Screenplay by David Lowery
Based “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” by Anonymous
Directed by David Lowery
Produced by Toby Halbrooks, James M. Johnston, David Lowery, Tim Headington, Theresa Steele Page
Cinematography by Andre Droz Palermo
Edited by David Lowery
Music by Daniel Hart
Director and screenwriter David Lowery’s beautiful, evocative, mystical and wonderfully dreamlike Arthurian-era fantasy film “The Green Knight” is easily the fantasy film to see at the theaters in the summer of 2021, completely over-powering every other fantasy, science fiction, supernatural and horror film genre film of 2021 and even eclipsing every other film from these genres from 2020, too. “The Green Knight”–finally–becomes the main go-to genre film to see out at the movie theaters in the post-pandemic era, as the movie fills up the screen in a big, epic manner with visual, literary, acting, production and direction filmic elements that are, in addition to the kudos already mentioned, additionally inventive, original, breathtaking, atmospheric, creative and just wondrous.
The film, to its credit, easily recalls, evokes and pays homage to–but does not steal from or rip off from–John Boorman’s classic Arthurian-era masterpiece “Excalibur” from 1981; John Milius’ classic masterpiece “Conan the Barbarian” from 1982; Desmond Davis’ “Clash of the Titans” from 1981; Paul Verhoeven’s classic “Flesh and Blood” from 1985; the Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts movies from the 1960s and 1970s; and Peter Jackson’s classic three “Lord of the Rings” masterpieces. That’s not overdoing, because “The Green Knight” manages to eloquently capture the essence of magic, mystery and mysticism that permeated these previous movies, and other notable movies in these genres, of course. However, Lowery, who also edited the movie, makes sure that he stays original, inventive and new from start to finish, and he succeeds in making “Knight” wholly his own movie, while maintaining the spirit of his filmic predecessors.
That’s important to note because moviegoers would be right at first glance to roll their eyes and sigh if and when they hear about yet another story set in the time and era of King Arthur. Really, one would think, do we need yet another Arthurian tale? Yet, rest assured, there’s no need for eye rolls and sighs, as Lowery presents a new Arthur-era tale that completely, assuredly avoids all of the familiar story elements we’ve all seen far too many times in far too many television shows and movies and even books, stories, poems, songs, folk tales and documentaries (and even hilarious comedic satires, thank you, Monty Python). In “The Green Knight,” King Arthur is but a supporting character, the knights of the round table are literally only glimpsed briefly in an opening scene, and there’s absolutely zero presence throughout the movie of any of those other familiar characters. And, to Lowery’s credit, even the presentation of Arthur in “The Green Knight” is different, original and new; Arthur’s castle is presented in an original manner; and, in fact, the entire Arthurian world is presented, like Boorman knew well to have presented, not in some rose-colored-glasses shiny gleaming world of rich excess but rather in a rugged, world-weary manner beaten down by time and the elements and the ugliness of the real world and years of age, time and war. The entire fantasy world presented in “The Green Knight” is original and new, and that sets the film firmly in its own time, space and place.
The major over-riding aspect that sets “The Green Knight” apart from other recent and even other older fantasy films is its insistence on adhering to its own unique world of magic and fantasy. Atmosphere, mood, style and fantasy are melded seamlessly through the script, acting, directing and production design to present that dreamlike status that permeates and fills the movie–at times, things aren’t quite clear and may not make sense at first, but that’s fine in a fantasy world–things aren’t supposed to make sense, and in magic, things don’t have to be clear. There are long stretches without dialogue, and these scenes are filled with memorable, beautiful, mystical images that carry the story and characters forward instead–not every bit of exposition and story need to have dialogue. (Milus’ “Conan” excelled at letting action, images, characterizations, music and sound carry the story and film forward without dialogue.) In “Knight,” too, there are interludes of pure fantasy filled with dreamy images, natural sounds and moody songs or chants. There are creatures of all types, shapes and sizes that appear and disappear. There are twists and turns that come out of nowhere. And there are characters whose motives, meanings, methods and intentions also aren’t always clear, easily defined or easily understood. And there’s that production design, set design and art direction that purely captures not just the wilderness ruggedness and wild natural beauty of a remote, lost, forlorn and somewhat lonely Medieval, Middle Ages era, time and reign, but also captures the inherent magic and fantasy of a world still mostly wild, natural, bucolic and filled with the pure wonder of nature and the overlapping old worlds of magic and mysticism.
Lowery and his cast and crew simply set out to cast a spell, and that spell succeeds, putting the viewer purely in a world of pure escapism, the supernatural and the paranormal that the best fantasy films succeed in doing. That’s not overstating the case, as viewers will see once they enjoy the movie–this is indeed something completely different.
“The Green Knight” tells the tale of the rowdy, rogue-ish, rough-edged knight of the Round Table, Sir Gawain, beautifully and strongly portrayed by Dev Patel, and Gawain’s mysterious battle of wits, self discovery, challenges, games and honor with a supernatural and mysterious woodlands creature who is known as the Green Knight. It’s not a spoiler to say that early in the story and film, the Green Knight presents a most unusual challenge to the Round Table knights, Gawain accepts that challenge, and he is subsequently thus bound and spellbound to fulfilling the completion of the challenge to keep his chivalry, his honor and to avoid shaming not only himself, but Camelot, the other knights and the kingdom of King Arthur. To complete his challenge, and as promised during the initial challenge, one year after his first meeting with the Green Knight, Gawain must undertake an epic journey across desolate, difficult, dangerous, foreboding, eerie and downright horrifying forests, waters, rivers, plains, mountains, castles and woods to meet the Green Knight again–a trek that tests every aspect and level of Gawain’s mental, physical and psychological being. Gawain’s journey is a journey of self discovery, endurance, challenges, redemption, coming of age, growth, learning, chivalry, honor–and understated heroism.
While most of the specific details of Gawain’s journey will not be revealed here–they are best to be discovered and enjoyed by the filmgoer–be assured that the filmic journey is worth taking with Gawain. Just like the epic high adventures of the previously-mentioned films and characters, there are all sorts and types and manners of bizarre, unique and fantastical people and creatures along the way. All of these beings exist in some state that strangely, inventively combines the ethereal, the dangerous, the mystical, the supernatural and the threatening. And the creatures and beings are all difficult to read, figure out and understand–as any creature and being in a sword and sorcery supernatural fantasy should be, as previously noted. And that just makes everything much more suspenseful, thrilling and exciting.
Two beautifully outstanding aspects of this fantasy and supernatural world that Gawain encounters on his trek to meet the Green Knight must be noted–and noting them are not spoilers, as these story elements will still mystify and entertain while watching the movie. There is one creature that accompanies Gawain on much of his journey, and it’s none other than a beautiful orange fox–a nice touch, because how many movies have a beautiful orange fox as the main accompanying character for the protagonist? It’s always a horse, or a dog, or a wizard, or a knight, or a human sidekick, or even, often, rabbits and turtles and other familiar animals or beings. But here–the creature chosen to accompany Gawain is a fox, presented not as some cutesy Disneyesque awww-factor thing, but presented as a deeper, more mysterious, more supernatural being appearing and disappearing in the woods. Foxes by nature are beautiful, sly, stealthy, sneaky, darting here and there–attractive but also just a little mysterious and even dangerous. And that’s a worthy creature to have at Gawain’s side–even more worthy considering that Gawain does lose his more familiar storytelling companion, his horse, on the journey (that’s not spoiling anything, either).
The other beautifully outstanding interlude that Gawain and his companion encounter is simply one of the highlights of the movie–a purely magical, ethereal encounter in some misty highlands in some unknown part of the world high atop a lonely mountaintop. Amid the mists and fogs of a strange land, Gawain stumbles upon a legion of slow-moving, gracefully lumbering, naked (but not gratuitously naked) and gentle giants walking, chanting and singing. With no dialogue, no words, and simple, eloquent movement, Gawain and these strange giants observe each other warily and curiously–and the giants start to sing a song of such understated, soft beauty, all Gawain–and moviegoers–can do is just sit back and get completely lost in the moment.
Fortunately, there are other moments like this along Gawain’s strange journey–original, inventive, magical and captivating.
Writer and director Lowery deviates somewhat from the much longer and much more complicated source material, the Medieval, 14th-century epic story-poem “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” which is credited only to Anonymous. Students of this original work should note that Lowery has made a movie, and not a literal adaption of the long written story, and he has made some changes and concessions to adapt to the times and constraints of a film medium. Nevertheless, the movie still presents an intriguing, thought-provoking and evocative story that will resonate in the mind and psyche long after the movie is over–just like any good movie should.
The beautiful, sexy and alluring–that’s appropriate here because her characters are supposed to be beautiful, sexy and alluring in the context of the story–Alicia Vikander shines in two roles, Lady and Esel, excellently combining mystery, danger, suspicion, treachery, seduction and power in both characters, all elements and characteristics that tests, mystifies, hypnotizes and seduces Gawain to the colliding points of desire, lust, confusion and near-madness. Vikander and Patel share some interesting scenes of bewilderment, bedazzlement and bemusement that are at once seductive, sexy, frightening, suspenseful–and magical.
Actors Joel Edgerton as Lord; Sarita Choudhury as Mother, who is Gawain’s regal, mysterious mother; Sean Harris as a somewhat aged, slower-moving and more reflective and literate King Arthur; and Ralph Ineson as a scary, frightening, powerful Green Knight, all seem to completely understand exactly what it is they’re supposed to do, which is inhabit characters not of a familiar time and place, but rather characters caught in a Middle Aged world that is itself caught between the age of magic and an rapidly progressing, confusing world that appears to be moving away from magic to madness. These actors knowingly inhabit fantastical characters in a fantasical world. This conflict between the more real, non-supernatural world and the more other-wordly, supernatural world is a staple and a foundation of fantasy (and sci-fi, horror, supernatural, paranormal, sword-and-sorcery and other similar genres), yes, but that storytelling staple is always inherently interesting and even necessary for proper conflict in these genres. Thus, Gawain continually fights these other-worldy, supernatural, magical elements knowing full-well that he’s also fighting an epic battle while the world itself is changing and evolving around him. That conflict between changing worlds is always necessary for proper conflict in fantasy stories, and that inherent, basic conflict is present in “The Green Knight.”
While, as noted, the film consistently shines in terms of acting, writing, story and character and plot development, direction, editing, pacing, timing, production design, special effects, make-up and costuming, the only major area that needed more and better work is the musical score. Just what is it with many modern-day film composers? Point-blank–many modern-day film scores are horrible. That’s right, horrible. They’re lacking, actually devoid, in basic melody, harmony and memorable riffs and chords. Many newer film scores sound more like noise created by bored sound effects editors who mash together tapes of crashing garbage trucks, malfunctioning electrical appliances, clattering dishes and pieces of wood and metal being dropped from a tall building–really. It’s more white noise than real music, and this type of noise clutter is not pleasing, does not help to advance the story or the movie–and it’s distracting. Movie musical scores should be, well, musical. Modern-day composers should sit down, listen closely to, and take notes while listening to Basil Poledouris’ masterful score for 1982’s “Conan the Barbarian”–one of the better film scores for not just any fantasy movie but any movie in general film history; Trevor Jones’ equally classic score for “Excalibur;” and Howard Shore’s also-equally classic score for the three “Lord of the Rings” movies. Now there are some memorable film musical scores. “The Green Knight” deserved such a score, but, alas, the music is sorely lacking.
In the end, as Sir Gawain’s journey nears its end, does Gawain live up to his codes of chivalry and codes of honor in his eventual meeting with the Green Knight? What, exactly, does he learn during his trek, his journey of self discovery? What is the ultimate price of pure chivalry, duty and honor? Just how much does a man, a knight, need to sacrifice to ensure the continuance of his and his country’s chivalry, duty and honor? And what about those conflicting worlds of man, magic, mysticism, the supernatural, the other-wordly–all struggling to simply survive amid the many burgeoning conflicts of a troubled, changing, confusing Medieval and Middle Age era? How are these troubled, interlocking, ever-battling worlds reconciled–if they are to be reconciled at all?
These are the worthy questions presented throughout “The Green Knight,” and, much like Sir Gawain setting out on his journey, filmgoers will have to trek to the nearest movie theater, sit comfortably in the dark and enjoy the trek along with Gawain and everyone else in the story and the movie. And, much like Gawain, perhaps these traveling, curious moviegoers may indeed learn something about themselves and the conflicting worlds they inhabit along the way, during their own voyage of knowledge and discovery. Amid any world, no matter how troubling that world may be, there’s always time to live, learn, become enlightened and fight yet another day. Chivalry and honor, after all, are not dead.