David Lowery Crafts A Dazzling Arthurian Dark Fantasy With ‘The Green Knight’ – Review
The Green Knight introduces a refreshing cinematic approach to Arthurian lore for modern audiences. Director David Lowery adapts the 14th-Century poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight into an epic, moody piece of storytelling. Lowery’s previous work with A24, A Ghost Story, is very in line with this film–a slow-burn reflection on morality that immerses the audience into the atmosphere. Rich with stunning visuals and intoxicating pacing, it provides a surreal coming-of-age chivalric romance that sets it apart from any prior medieval adaptation.
This story centers on King Arthur’s nephew, Sir Gawain (Dev Patel), who is reckless and strong-willed. He goes on a mythic quest to define his character and prove his worth to his family and the court by facing the Green Knight–a mysterious figure visualized as a bark-skinned force of nature. The visual storytelling lends itself to the many meanings and interpretations of the centuries-old story, highlighting the supernatural elements and the place of nature in the poem. Lowery heavily focuses on the themes and symbolism, leaning into the arty horror that A24 fans are familiar with. There is much less action and more cerebral introspection, making this a unique and vital approach for the modern age of filmmaking. The Green Knight confronts the court on Christmas, and there is a menacing stillness in the air. Gawain accepts his challenge with a swift blow of an axe, and unbeknownst to what will happen next, he seals the fate of his future. As the Green Knight picks up his head and rides away, he ominously repeats that their reunion will occur in one year.
Dev Patel’s mesmerizing performance adds a refreshing layer to an Arthurian protagonist, he leans into all facets of the character, including his weakness, struggles with masculinity and vulnerability. Patel had a hand in shaping the character with Lowery, which he fully embodied. This is essential for the film, as we root for him because of these shortcomings and his will to overcome them. It is a complex approach that wrestles with the heart of the story and what it means to be a hero. He is respected for what he did on that Christmas day, tales and stories are recounted throughout the village. One of my favourite touches is the way the passage of time is displayed throughout the film in shots of children enjoying medieval theatre marionettes that recount the story of Gawain as we are witnessing it.
Although Gawain showed great bravery in the challenge, as the year quickly passes it is clear that he has not fully embraced the heroism that he displayed. He hesitantly embarks on a journey to meet the Green Knight again through sprawling landscapes, encountering people along the way to test his morale even further. The scenery reflects the arduous passage that lies in front of him, every location is a step that beams with an eerie, beautiful, epic emptiness. Cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo, who has previously worked with Lowery on A Ghost Story, masterfully balances the rich colours and textures to give this landscape and unknown journey life of its own. Coupled with the haunting score and filming on location proved crucial for authenticity. It breathes just as much life as each individual does.
Every supporting character that Gawain meets provides a new perspective, challenging him in a variety of aspects that the Green Knight doesn’t. From Erin Kellyman’s Winifred, Alicia Vikander’s seductive Lady and Barry Keoghan’s scheming highwayman–these sequences add layers to the story and make the treacherous journey all the more captivating.
Once he and the Green Knight come face to face again, everything he endured to get to this point has shaped him and his perspective on his life. The conclusion feels earned, it pleasantly suits the tone and atmosphere that is built throughout the runtime. Every moment in the film is meant to be felt for our interpretation, as so many people have dissected the poem in the past. It may be divisive for general audiences, but fans of Lowery’s previous work or dark fantasy and arty horror will relish in the simultaneously definitive and enigmatic wrap.
The Green Knight is an epic fantasy that sets it apart from other works in the genre. Mesmerizing visuals, haunting score, and David Lowery’s poetic storytelling take the audience on a journey themselves to truly live in this world. Every shot and step of the way is crucial for his interpretation, it captures and reels into the dream-like voyage of a character’s evolution. Rarely are we introduced to, or spend as much time with, such a complex, flawed hero. Dev Patel beautifully embodies Gawain through these flaws and tepid valour.