A fantasy re-telling of the medieval story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
One of the most unique films to hit the screen in quite some time, David Lowery’s “The Green Knight” is a dense, deliberate movie seemingly made for a very narrow audience, namely scholars of medieval literature and experts on the legend of King Arthur. Be that as it may, it will still prove engaging to those who need to brush up on the English legend, though a degree of patience is needed to take in all it has to offer, so much so, a second viewing is likely to yield a greater appreciation of it.
Based on the chivalric romance “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” Dev Patel stars in the titular role as the wannabe Knight of the Round Table. A hanger-on in the court of King Arthur (Sean Harris), who happens to be his uncle, the young man longs to impress the men he so admires. He gets the opportunity one Christmas morning when a gigantic green knight – think a huge tree that looks like a man – interrupts the festivities at Camelot with a curious proposition. He will allow anyone present to strike him once with the understanding he will be allowed to return the blow in kind a year hence. Impulsive and eager to impress, Gawain accepts this proposition and promptly lops off the knight’s head; the visitor then picks up his own head and leaves, thus starting the clock on their fateful meeting.
As expected, the year that ensues goes by very quickly, Gawain basking in glory for his deed, secretly dreading the impending date, going so far as considering not honoring the bargain. However, go he must and the journey to the cathedral where the knight resides includes a wayward meeting with a gang of thieves, a stay at an estate with an overly attentive lord (Joel Edgerton) and his seductive wife (Alicia Vikander) and multiple encounters with a wily fox, who serves as his guide and harbinger.
Lowery is so deliberate in his pacing, there are times when you may feel as though you’re with Gawain every step of the way. To appreciate the film, viewers are required to make an adjustment, one of them being to bask in the masterful compositions created by Lowery and his cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo. The director holds many of his shots so that we may drink in the minute details in each of these Renaissance inspired images, all replete with suggestive imagery that bolsters many of the story’s themes.
As with all well-told tales, the hero’s journey is ours as Gawain is forced to contemplate not only his purpose, but his death as well. The film’s climax is a masterful sequence as our hero, his neck under the Knight’s blade, has a vision of his perspective future, a series of scenes without dialogue that portend a fate the young man would never have imagined but, from all we’ve seen, seems quite probable. It is a horrific vision and Gawain’s response to it reflects what he’s gleaned from his journey, wisdom we would all be so lucky to possess.
There’s an illusive quality to “The Green Knight,” which is Lowery’s intent. It’s a film that requires multiple viewings in order to absorb all it has to say and appreciate the artistry it contains. To be sure, it is a challenging work, open to multiple interpretations, a layered narrative that prompts further thought and discussion. Unlike the disposable product that clutter our multiplexes, this is what cinema should be.
3 1/2 Stars