Review: The Green Knight

Given the way he has decided to adapt the epic 14th century poem “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” for the screen, director David Lowery might seem to be putting himself out there to helm an MCU or DC comics blockbuster, though I have a feeling the kind of people who find superhero movies the epitome of cinematic expression would leave The Green Knight impressed but baffled. The story is simple enough. Gawain (Dev Patel) naively accepts the challenge of the titular demon (Ralph Ineson) in the court of his uncle, King Arthur (Sean Harris), but after he cuts the demon’s head off, the demon just pops it back on then compels Gawain to complete the challenge—the young knight must come to the Green Knight in a year’s time and submit himself for slaughter. Most of the movie involves Gawain’s journey to the Green Knight’s lair, a chapel. Lowery presents this long odyssey as if it were a fever dream filled with magical animals and monsters. Gawain is understandably uneasy about the fate that awaits him at the end of his journey, and while much of the action that takes place before he arrives gives off the feeling that he’s in no hurry and would prefer seeing the sights, even if they tend to be scary and soul-sapping, Gawain is chivalrous to a fault and understands he must show up, even if he seriously misunderstood the purport of the original challenge.

And while the movie’s visual component, especially Lowery’s use of color, is sumptuous and stimulating, the story isn’t conventionally coherent. Based on the title and the opening gambit, the viewer might believe that there will be fighting along the way, but most of Gawain’s struggles are with his conscience and sensibility. Before Gawain took the demon’s challenge, he was plagued by indecision and callow waywardness, and his journey to oblivion is essentially the cost he has to pay for privilege he didn’t earn. But so much of this content is framed as metaphor and allegory, probably because that’s how it was presented in the poem, so Lowery seems determined to give something more to literary scholars than to the usual superhero fans, which is quite a mission, if you think about it. I enjoyed The Green Knight even though I have never read the poem, but, then again, I’m not sure I completely understood what it was trying to say. I also tend to walk out of Avengers movies scratching my head. 

Now playing in Tokyo at Toho Cinemas Chanter Hibiya (050-6868-5001), Toho Cinemas Shinjuku (050-6868-5063), Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills (050-6868-5024).

The Green Knight home page in Japanese

photo (c) 2021 Green Knight Productions LLC

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