The Green Knight is the type of fantasy you don’t see very often but wish you did.
Published on January 28, 2022
Rating 4.5 /5
As an adaptation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, writer/director David Lowery gives this period fantasy a deeply cerebral and contemplative nature. It tells the tale of Sir Gawain of Arthur’s knights of the roundtable and how he desired a power that would lead to his demise. On paper, the story sounds fairly simple but there’s so much more to it that Lowery explores, making for a beautifully surreal reflection on contemplation.
Dev Patel plays Sir Gawain as an ambitious yet foolish man with dreams of becoming king. He spends his days lavishing in love but thirsty for something more. That special something rides on a horse come Christmas day. A mysterious figure known as the Green Knight visits Arthur and his men. He offers up a challenge. If one of the knights can kill the Green Knight, they will receive his ax. However, they must also commit to receiving a similar blow in one year’s time by seeking out the Green Knight. Gawain, seeing this as his golden opportunity to become a legend, jumps at this chance. The duel, however, is one-sided, as the green creature willingly lets Gawain decapitate him. The green knight then leaves his ax but collects his head, riding off to wait for Gawain’s return to him.
A year passes and Gawain sets off to be true to his word. His travels find him meeting all manner of interesting people and creatures. In terms of people, he meets a talkative youngster aiming to steal his stuff. In terms of creatures, he meets ghosts, giants, and talking foxes. All of these encounters find him deeply questioning his own meaning and existence, constantly being given previews of his own demise. The further Gawain goes, the more that lingering voice tells him to turn back. Part of him, however, knew that he couldn’t run. He has to accept death.
The visuals are just such a treat in this picture. Everything from the underwater search for a missing skull to the foggy march of giants is a truly mesmerizing sight. The strong visual effects linger long enough to take in their strange beauty and give breathing room for our tragic hero’s inner journey. There’s more than just the muddy colors of the battlefield. The world Gawain explores is punctuated with deep greens and bold blues. There’s this great sadness and dreamlike quality.
More incredible about this film is how it ends with both excitement and contentment. Being true to his word, Gawain arrives at the leafy domain of the Green Knight. Before he is killed, however, he is given a vision of what would happen if he returned home to become a king. True to his lust for power, he would have ruled with cruelty for shunning his love, leading men to their deaths, and ultimately throwing his kingdom into a war that could not be won. Realizing the legacy he may have left, the frightened Gawain finds himself less afraid of death. He’s seen a world where he lives and felt as though he lived through it. Life will go on without him and there’s some comfort in that. He’s ready for the ax.
The Green Knight is the type of fantasy you don’t see very often but wish you did. It’s less about the action of clanging swords or the fantastical elements of unique creatures. There’s some of that present but the biggest draw is by far the beautiful direction, strong acting, and deep themes about existential dread. It’s just a wonderfully somber adventure that I can’t stop thinking about and is sure to warrant many rewatches to come.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.