The Green Knight (2021)

The Green Knight
Director: David Lowery
Writer: David Lowery
Based on: the legend of Gawain
Cast: Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Sarita Choudhury, Sean Harris, Kate Dickie, Ralph Ineson, Erin Kellyman, Joel Edgerton
Seen on: 26.8.2021

Content Note: mention of rape

Gawain (Dev Patel) likes to drink and sleep with Essel (Alicia Vikander), a sex worker in the local brothel. He does not like to take things seriously or to take on responsibility. His uncle the King (Sean Harris) and his Queen (Kate Dickie) see something more in him though, and his mother (Sarita Choudhury) also has plans for him. But on Christmas, Gawain’s reckless fashion leads him to accept a game from the Green Knight (Ralph Ineson) in probably the worst way – with long-reaching consequences.

The Green Knight is an intense film with absolutely stunning images that did get a little exhausting for me at times. But I’d still recommend it, especially on the big screen.

The poster showing Gawain (Dev Patel) wearing a golden crown, a dark look on his face.

I know very little about Arthurian (and related) legends, I have to admit, and I did not know about Gawain before this film. So I don’t know how much was in the original texts and how much is Lowery’s interpretation, but I know that I was intrigued by his choice to show how much of an asshole Gawain really is, and how empty his “heroic quest”. Gawain is definitely lucky that he is played by Dev Patel whose beauty and charm are able to hide his bad personality for a while (a wonderfully deliberate casting choice), but it can’t be denied in the end. With this theme of “what makes a hero a hero” it reminded me a little of the 2007 Beowulf movie, although I’d hesitate to compare them in any other regard.

There is obviously a lot of thought that went into the film, and it should be perfect fodder for film theorists everywhere. It is a little unwieldy for people who just want to lean back and be entertained by a film. (This is a neutral observation, I’m not saying that one or the other is better.) In any case, it offers us a visual feast right out of the “every frame a picture” handbook.

A dishevelled Gawain (Dev Patel) about to get on his horse.

While it’s unwieldiness is part of the reason that the film felt a little exhausting to me, the bigger issue I had was the soundtrack. It just didn’t work for me at all. I found it terribly grating, shrill and overwhelming. Sometimes I just wanted those choirs to shut the hell up. I can’t remember the last time a soundtrack was such a big negative factor in a film for me. (The other two people I was with, way bigger soundtrack people than me for sure, did not have this reaction, so your mileage may vary.)

Whether you like the film or not, it is certainly true that it is a beautiful film that can and should be talked about a lot. And I can see myself re-watching it soon (the soundtrack be damned) to look at it with fresh eyes. It’s the kind of film where I’m sure you’ll discover something new with every re-watch. In short, it is challenging cinema in the best way.

Gawain (Dev Patel) making his way through a foggy forest, everything bathed in yellow light.

Summarizing: absolutely worth seeing.

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