The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
The sheer strangeness of The Green Knight’s premise makes it difficult to recount but the narrative is founded on a challenge to King Arthur’s (Sean Harris) court by the titular Green Knight – the challenge simply asks that its two participants take it in turns to cut off one another’s head. Ralph Ineson is transformed through prosthetics into the imposing humanoid knight ornated in bark-like skin and captures the menacing but playful character of the Knight. Yet the film is centred largely around the man who accepts this challenge – Gawain – who Dev Patel masterfully portrays as a man grappling with purpose and direction. The story progresses through a series of transitions. In love, Gawain moves from lusty gratification to a deeper and fuller desire which is emphasised further by Alicia Vikander’s dual role as lady and common woman. His reputation also changes as he loses his anonymity to instead become mythical within the court. Yet this improvement is fundamentally threatened throughout as we wonder about Gawain’s inescapable mortality and the fragility of his advancements.
Through its inspiration from Middle English Arthurian romance poem, this epic’s contemporary relevance is not initially apparent. However, Lowery displays a tension between the natural world and mankind, exhibiting images of revitalised forests and decaying skeletons, which compel us to confront our own relationship with the environment. Yet, it is also reflective of its origins as it explores ideas of masculine valour and chivalric rules of conduct. The Green Knight asks its viewer to decide how honourable Gawain is as he oscillates between conventionally knightly acts of bravado and more cowardly (but human) moments. Moreover, both the film and its character challenge the legitimacy of chivalry. Is Gawain right to seek honour and become the traditional figure of a knight? Will completing the Green Knight’s game even make him honourable?
Like its title, The Green Knight draws attention to colour throughout as it becomes a rich visual piece demonstrated in striking flashes of red and an escalating motif of green. The role of red and green is even overtly questioned in a poetical speech from the Lady who concludes that ‘red is the colour of lust but green is what lust leaves behind’. These emblems are only one element of the spectacle as similarly to Gawain, we journey through a series of lucid, dizzying sequences which utilise physics-defying camerawork, trancelike digital effects, and haunting shots reminiscent of medieval paintings.
Feeling sometimes like a silent film, the spectacle of The Green Knight captivates and dazzles its audience capturing some of the uncanny enchantment of the original tale. Yet at times, its openness is frustrating as it teeters on the boundary between enigmatic and vague. It deviates from its original source material introducing an unearthly ensemble of beheaded maidens, friendly foxes, and unsettling giants. We are uneasy in this vast, enigmatic world and it seems to recall Tolkien’s sprawling universe creating an unknowable yet intriguing land. Lowery successfully executes these traces of hidden history as the apocalyptic is consistently alluded to; Gawain moves through dying landscapes furnished all from corpses to destroyed forests. Yet it runs the risk of being ill-defined and purposeless and this is exemplified through the character Morgan le Fay. Although having not originally intended to be Gawain’s mother, the story suggests she magically initiates and manipulates the events of the film to further her son. Yet, much like her character’s conception, it feels ill-considered and shallow as the audience struggles to interpret her actions.
The Green Knight feels in moments like its own scenery – shrouded in mist and dull light – and we struggle to find our way in this expansive but occasionally formless film. The film’s ending does not evade the indetermined but cements this ambiguity with Lowery reshooting from a more ‘explicit’ ending to one which reflects and encapsulates The Green Knight’s incomprehensibility.