'The Green Knight' Is an Aggressively Arty Take on Arthurian Adventure

Directed by David Lowery

Starring Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sarita Choudhury, Sean Harris, Ralph Ineson

BY Rachel HoPublished Jul 30, 2021

Expectations truly are the killer of joy. For those expecting The Green Knight to be a chainmail and sword epic adventure ending in a battle between knights of various colours, re-align your assumptions and settle in for a surreal, meditative film about honour and character.

Director David Lowery takes a unique spin on the story of Sir Gawain (Dev Patel), the young nephew of King Arthur (Sean Harris) who is desperate for approval via a knighthood. When the giant, fantastical Green Knight (Ralph Ineson) interrupts a meeting of the knights of the round table, Gawain meets this creature's challenge to play a game. Gawain has seemingly won the confrontation but is required to journey to the Green Knight one year later.

When the time arrives, Gawain traverses across barren highlands to complete his quest, confronted by thieves, giants and ghosts. In a test of physical and mental acuity, Gawain pushes himself to his limits to protect his honour.

The structure of The Green Knight is reminiscent of action role-playing video games. A theatrical trailer sets up the story, a lite level boss fight is first, and then comes the full quest revealed. Along the way, side missions, NPCs and enemies are confronted, with each level representing its own challenges. Where The Green Knight departs from this formula is in the last boss fight, as Lowery fully realizes his medieval fantasy take on the Arthurian legend.

Also similar to many modern-day video games, the visuals of The Green Knight are stunning. Cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo uses colour to punctuate the story and develop the tone of Gawain's quest. The coldness of the medieval period is felt through the echoing castles and vast and empty lands.

Ultimately, The Green Knight is an exploration of honour and character, and the extent to which we wish to preserve it. Patel delivers a strong performance, progressing from a reckless young man to a confident and ruthless knight with great ease. The world that Lowery has built is one of high fantasy, grounded in medieval harshness, which Patel lives in very comfortably, allowing the audience to do so as well.

The Green Knight is a difficult film to assess without spoiling the story. The side quests and characters Gawain faces range from predictable to intriguingly disturbing. It is a haunting film with plenty of creative appeal, which film critics and cinephiles alike will eat up.

The Green Knight is not the epic fantasy adventure that its marketing campaign promises. Instead, it's an aggressively artistic endeavour and deep character study. Audiences will be treated if they go in blind or who ready themselves for a quiet meditation on life. The Green Knight has a lot of genius within it, but it may require a second watching to appreciate it.
(Elevation Pictures)

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