“The Green Knight”: Not Your Typical Knight Story

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For anyone having trouble categorizing the new movie “The Green Knight” starring Dev Patel and directed by David Lowery, here is a little context. “The Green Knight” was produced by A24, who have also produced terrifying and funky movies like  “Midsommar” and “Hereditary.” “The Green Knight” is the newest retelling of the Arthurian legend “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” but with the atmosphere of an LSD trip. With that in mind,  let’s look at what “The Green Knight” is trying to say. 

First and foremost, this is not a movie of action scenes followed by action scenes. When we meet our hero (or villain), Sir Gawain, (Dev Patel) your expectations of a traditional fantasy movie hero are immediately challenged. The infamous Green Knight, a mysterious giant, appears at Camelot’s Christmas feast and introduces his “Christmas Game.” The ominous music and reluctance of more seasoned knights to accept the challenge point to a trap, into which Sir Gawain, young and eager, falls. The Green Knight challenges any would-be champion to a duel, the sole condition being that any blow which the challenger manages to land must be returned, one year hence, by the Green Knight.  Gawain, perhaps oblivious to the implications of this clause, beheads the Green Knight, who suddenly picks up his severed head and rides into the distance. The Christmas Game has begun. 

The rest of the movie consists of Sir Gawain riding to meet his fate at the Green Chapel, where he is to receive the blow he landed on the Green Knight. As you watch, you lose the sense of reality and fiction. The screen morphs into a fever dream. Beyond grappling with the absurdities Gawain faces on his journey, the movie poses important questions for the viewer: What is the true meaning of knighthood? What is honor? As the movie concludes and Gawain meets his fate in the Green Chapel, he has perhaps arrived at the answers to some of these deep questions. Though as for the answers themselves, you will have to see the movie to find out. 

As far as cinematography, this movie is beautifully shot. The director, David Lowery, has a talent for capturing intimate facial expressions before panning to a wider shot. Filmed in Ireland, the luscious green hills and ancient castles capture the mood of King Arthur’s time. The color palette is often hauntingly beautiful when panning outdoor scenes, but also quickly turns dark at certain points. Think of the bright tones of the first few Harry Potter movies and how they subsequently turned eerie and somber after the fourth movie; the Green Knight combines both of these disparate color schemes.  Because of the color tone of this movie, it might have better served as a winter film,  rather than being released in the dog days of summer. However, some brighter points in the film, which are often humorous and used to reference key turning points, add dimension and distract from the heavy plot. 

The movie was impressive on the acting front. Dev Patel easily handled the nuance his character required, impressively evoking Gawain’s youth, constant yearning and fear. The role of King Arthur, played by Sean Harris, perfectly plays the part of a wise king whose prime is behind him. At the end of the movie, the only character who still feels unexplored and mysterious is the Green Knight himself. 

So is this a movie SLU students should take time to watch? For fans of “Midsommar” and movies that make you think, this is a movie worth seeing. However, it may not be the movie that everyone needs. As college students, we spend most of our time challenging ourselves mentally. This is a movie that takes effort. However, once you begin delving into the themes and the niche the director has created, you are left with a fulfilling movie that demands a rewatch or two in order to grasp its full meaning.