A pensive, hypnotic adaptation of Arthurian legend
After being announced in 2019 for a 2020 release, The Green Knight has been one of my most anticipated films of the past two years. Now, after being put on an indefinite delay because of the global pandemic, David Lowry’s fantasy epic is finally upon us. After Lowry’s examination of death in relation to time and memory in 2017’s A Ghost Story, he distinguished himself as one of the most enigmatic directors working today. I mention enigmatic because his style is hypnotic and understated, but also because in addition to his small budget art house affairs Lowry has also directed Disney blockbusters like Pete’s Dragon in 2016. I am elated to report, The Green Knight is not only Lowry’s best film and most cerebral work, but his most complete.
Fans of fantasy should be warned, if you go into this film expecting the action-adventure tales featured in films like Lord of the Rings or Narnia you will be sorely disappointed. The Green Knight is first and foremost a study of its principal character, Sir Gawain, portrayed with an uneasy bravado and endless amounts of subtlety by Dev Patel. Gawain’s tale begins with his lust for honor and glory, leading him to accept the offer of a seemingly harmless Christmas Game from the titular Green Knight, played by an intimidating Ralph Ineson. This sets in motion a years-long journey that will test Gawain’s courage, integrity and honor.
Lowry’s version of Arthurian England is a sight to behold. It blends elements of both low and high fantasy stylings to create a wholly original setting. Soaked in both ever contrasting naturalistic and expressionistic lighting Lowry and his cinematographer, Andrew Droz Palermo, add a surreal dream-like visual quality to the film that permeates any reading of the film’s themes that can be drawn from the puzzling series of events.
Each piece of Gawain’s journey, from a mysterious fox companion to a haunted house, feel both like mortal tests of Gawain’s character and an artificial version of what Gawain thinks would make him a better, more honorable man. Ultimately then, the film becomes a cautionary tale about Gawain’s attempts to quell the pain inside him by looking outward instead of inward. Of course, this is only one reading of what is sure to be a hotly debated film, making the film all the more impressive by leaving so much interpretation up to the viewer. It is a rare piece of modern filmmaking that respects the intelligence of its audience to make their own conclusions about what exactly the events of the film mean.
Endlessly rewatchable thanks to its thematic density, ethereal style, and excellent performances, The Green Knight will not hold your hand through its runtime, but those who surrender themselves to the experience will be rewarded with one of, if not the best film of the year. The Green Knight is currently showing in theaters now. – 4.5/5 stars