The feel-good Christmas movie of the year!
What’s It About?
The Green Knight is a medieval fantasy centered on Gawain, the nephew of King Arthur, but unlike his uncle, Gawain has “no story to tell” and has achieved nothing remarkable in his life when compared to Arthur and his knights. However, opportunity comes a-knockin’ on Christmas Day when the Green Knight visits Arthur’s court to challenge one of his knights to a game: should the victor wound the Green Knight, the victor must seek the Green Knight out after one whole year to receive the same wound inflicted on him. Gawain, in a moment of reckless impulse, accepts the challenge and decapitates the Knight. Gawain ultimately takes an “L” because the Green Knight rises up, takes his head, and rides away. Now, Gawain must choose to meet his destiny or run away from it.
Oh, That Sounds Interesting! Is There A Lot of Action?!
Not quite. The most excitement you’ll get is during the first act, but after that, it cruises for the rest of its runtime. The first act is definitely going to be the strongest part for most audiences because it’s a traditional Hero’s Journey setup that effectively sets up the hero’s wants and needs as well as the inciting incident between Gawain and the Green Knight. The real challenge for most audiences will be the rest of the film because it’s deliberately paced, introspective, and full of symbolism. What keeps it from being frustratingly obscure is director David Lowery’s ability to effectively show and not tell. While some things are open to the viewer’s interpretation, the running themes of The Green Knight are pretty straightforward because Lowery lays out enough breadcrumbs to help guide you along.
Who’s In It?
You’ve got Dev Patel who’s perfectly cast as Gawain. One of the themes of the film is appearance over substance and while the character of Gawain has the appearance of a warrior, he’s nothing more than a selfish boy trying to prove himself a man. Dev Patel is able to balance that dichotomy because while he has the look and posture of a knight, Patel still has a youthful appearance underneath the facial hair he sports. The only other Dev Patel movie I’ve ever seen was Lion so I’m not sure how The Green Knight compares to his other performances, but the performance he gives is very moving and it’s a believable journey he takes us on. Most of the other supporting characters are just props for the film’s overall message, but Alicia Vikander is equally great in this film.
Perhaps there’s a bit of a bias because I have a giant crush on her, but it’s been awhile since I’ve seen her give a solid performance. She plays two different characters: Essel, a commoner who is also Gawain’s lover, and she plays the Lady, wife to the Lord and Gawain’s seductress. Much like Ava in Ex Machina, Vikander expertly straddles the line between sweet and innocent and sexy and seductive. It was a genuine surprise to see her in The Green Knight and she also gets to deliver a mesmerizing monologue.
So, Did You Like It?
I didn’t like it…I LOVED it! It’s most definitely not for everyone, so if you were expecting a fantasy epic akin to The Lord of the Rings, then you might want to skip this one, but I’d advise against that because much like Gawain’s journey, the film is a challenging but ultimately rewarding experience. The Green Knight’s deliberate pacing and art house sensibilities can be intimidating at first, but David Lowery’s skills as a director did just enough to keep me invested without totally sacrificing his vision for broader audience appeal, but I had to meet the director halfway and put in the work. The Green Knight isn’t a tale of sweeping battles or grandiose spectacle, but a tale chivalry and how greatness is forged through the decisions we make. The character of Gawain is an unnerving one because of how relatable I found him to be. That being said, amidst the existential dread I felt, the film also left me with a sense of hope that honor is forged through my own volition.