Written by: David Lowery
Starring: Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sarita Choudhury, Sean Harris, Ralph Ineson
Becoming a knight comes with many privileges in Arthurian times, where you have earned the respect of your King to the point he taps his sword on your shoulders along with the immense respect from everyone else. However, the process of achieving this status does not always occur in the most straightforward manner, thus pushing what occurs in the lusciously photographed The Green Knight to take place. A moment of naive pride sets off a legendary journey speaking on courage, honor, and virtue.
Hoping to become a knight in the future, Gawain (Dev Patel) attends a Christmas gathering at King Arthur’s (Sean Harris) court when a mysterious Green Knight (Ralph Ineson) arrives. This mysterious knight proposes a challenge to the court of someone striking a blow on him, which would be returned one year hence. Young Gawain steps up and decapitates the Green Knight and now a year later must make his quest to the Green Chapel to settle the deal.
Films eliciting various rich interpretations to their narrative always fascinate me the most because deviating from the most clear-cut answer to what a story could be adds a level of interesting dialogue because of it. The Green Knight does more than satiate this particular desire in the way it takes the famous anonymous story about Sir Gawain and the titular character and truly extrapolates so much of it. A key part of this comes from the astounding visuals this film has to offer.
The cinematography done by Andrew Droz Palermo adds this incredible texture to the story in what makes this quest for honor for Gawain both so dangerous but also life-changing. Only so much can be deduced from the early scenes of the film, but the naivete of Gawain extends beyond the town, which makes each phase of this journey frightening in its own way. From the yellow hues in the forest as he nears the chapel to the sequence when interacting with these giant figures, all of it looks breathtakingly gorgeous, as it works in tandem with the visual effects. Coming in with a $15 million production budget, this film looks so much better than most if not all modern blockbusters with a fraction of the cost. Effects come in sparingly but get utilized in such an impactful manner to add to the cinematography on display here, which makes this feature a technical masterwork.
However, as you know with my reviews, I love to focus on the story, and oh boy, this film has so much to dig your teeth into. In each phase of this story, it signifies a test for Gawain in his journey to become a knight with each instance essentially providing the opportunity to go back. This journey, like no other, provides him the chance to gain this fake honor because he simply just needs to see the Green Knight. For all anyone knows, he could fabricate this entire journey and come back stating he survived his interaction with the mysterious knight with no one having the ability to question him. However, he pushes on because he knows honor means everything in his quest to become a knight himself. This leads into the reading of this all being the machination of his mother, as can be deduced through different scenes in her own desire of seeing her son actually grow up.
The idea of growing up becomes fundamental here for Gawain and his journey, as he wants to enjoy the life of having no duty but also seeks the honors of being a knight. Something he cannot have at the same time as seen through what he must encounter. If anything, his youthful pride and naivete propel him to even take on the Green Knight and when offered to land a blow on him, he elects to decapitate him. He had the option to deliver any type of blow but he did not know how this game would actually go and how the Green Knight would hold him to this agreement. This becomes quite the parallel to anyone growing up where they make promises they must now deliver on and cannot find an out through the adults in their lives. Gawain essentially bit off more than he can chew with the journey essentially serving up the opportunity to prove he actually wants to be a knight and all it encapsulates.
Casting Dev Patel as Gawain proves to be a stroke of genius simply because the man knows how to act, especially in period pieces. Rocking his luscious locks of hair, Patel captures the youthful stupidity of his character along with expressing the physicality necessary for a trek of this matter. Director, David Lowery knew what he had with Patel and ensured to apply all of his charm, screen presence, and virtuoso acting ability to bring this character to life in such a fascinating manner. Patel then pairs well with Alicia Vikander, who really gets two roles to work with in this feature. A bit of a spoiler but what Vikander does in this feature in being alluring and then delivering a devastating monologue about the stature of nature in this world demonstrates the level of brilliance she can evoke through her performances. Simply outstanding from both of them.
The Green Knight allows for so many readings into its story, like a battle of man versus nature, a quest for honor, the growth of courage, a mother’s quest to turn her son into a man, and so many more. It allows for so much analysis and discussion, which all of the best films can create with this one being no exception. Its slower pace might not be for everyone as the film tries to meditate at each phase of this journey and what it means to Gawain. Coming into this feature expecting plenty of action will leave anyone disappointed, but what gets presented here is much better. Such a wonderful puzzle to figure out and the final 15 minutes of the story simply put a cherry on top of this delicious cake of a narrative nearly in breathtaking style.