If you are hearing the call of the big screen but haven’t been overly impressed with the movies on offer, let me entice you with a weird and wonderful tale that intrigues, confounds, and deserves the biggest screen you can find: The Green Knight. It has the peculiar pleasure of being set in winter, so if the heat is getting you down, it is the perfect excuse to head to an air-conditioned theater and watch some beautifully shot cinema replete with falling snow.
This movie was written, directed, and edited by David Lowery and stars Dev Patel as Sir Gawain. I was fascinated to learn that because the film’s release date was delayed, Lowery took time to re-edit the entire movie. I would love to be able to have seen the pre- and post-pandemic cut. Even though I don’t have that kind of access, I can draw your attention to some of the interesting changes or choices Lowery made with the original poem.
The story follows Sir Gawain, the nephew of the legendary King Arthur, as he takes up the challenge of an interloper at a Christmas feast. However, the green knight’s challenge pulls Gawain on a journey that seems like it can only end with his own death. The bulk of the movie is Sir Gawain’s quest to find the Green Knight’s home or more simply to survive the dangers of the journey.
The titular green knight reminded me less of the giant impeccably dressed green-skinned foe of the poem, and more of an Ent of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. The choice to make him tree-like with obvious Ent-like overtones, as opposed to a merely giant green man of the original poem, highlights the ecological angst of the film.
As Sir Gawain sets out on his quest, trees are literally being felled in the field. This showcases man versus nature, one of the most classic movie plots; it seems like man has conquered and yet nature rallies to have her way. As the pandemic stutters to a long drawn out close and the ever-present reality of a warming planet haunts our collective aspirations and imagination, the film threatens and promises that green will outlast us all.
Early in the movie, Esel, played by Alicia Vikander, responds to Gawain’s assertion that he is setting out on the quest to obtain greatness with a question of her own: “Greatness? Why is goodness not enough?” Throughout his quest, Gawain is confronted with the persistent question of what is he seeking? Is it goodness or greatness? What does goodness look like when his life is threatened? What does greatness look like when away from the sheltering myth of the round table?
I left the theater with so many questions. Sir Gawain and The Green Knight is a beautifully executed movie that invites multiple viewings, playing with ancient and ever new questions of morality and mortality in ways that are sure to leave you wondering.