There’s nothing like watching a new movie in which you have no expectations or context.
Regarding The Green Knight, I may have been in a more undemanding position than my friend who already went in with a vast foreknowledge of this 14-century, Arthurian chivalric poem, entitled Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (author unknown). Where he had to decipher the validity behind the infamous “the-book-is-always-better” debate, I was a blank canvas and enjoyed every sight, sound, and underlying theme that unfolded before me on the screen.
This is the kind of film that speaks through shadowy cinematography and a haunting score that syncs with boot plods in the mud and raindrops to a puddle. The pace is tempered to a journey by foot while the virtues of knighthood – generosity, chastity, and piety – are tested by one fascinating character after another.
No underlying theme is as black and white as the dense forest and blank plains our sketchy hero in Gawain (Dev Patel) has to toil through. The theme of honor in chivalry is both glorified and debunked. Some themes get muddled by witchcraft. Some, according to my friend, are added or subtracted by the likes of director David Lowery, who carefully blends fantastical whim with the whim of human nature. Whether it was included in the original poem or not, Gawain is given opportunities to foresee a future both without him and with him without a clean heart.
As if it were a medieval Charles Dickens ploy, the portrayal of a “changed man” seems to kindle hope in the viewer, but Lowery prefers a darker tone in the end – one similar to Kazantzakis’ The Last Temptation of Christ. And, to add more challenge to the viewers’ content filter, there is a cornucopia of Christian, pagan, feminist, and aesthetic innuendos both intended or interpreted, hidden or placed under the spotlight. The execution of these themes is both glaring and murky, and that may exactly be the point: The mystique is in the mist.
I want to say that faith and believing in God over the human will is the point, but there’s a better movie in here than a central lesson or a message, and I have to remind myself that movies do not have to have lessons or messages. They are to invoke feelings. (Roger Ebert, rest in peace.)
Have you ever seen Brown Bunny (2003) or Somewhere (2010)?
I realize a comparison to these two films is out of left field, but the point I’m trying to make is that The Green Knight is an alluring and somewhat enjoyable experience despite a missing context and a clear motif. Yes, it is a gloomy venture that could use a dash of humor, but it instigates conversation afterwards and stays with you the next day, as you wait to talk to the next person who has seen it.
Please let me know if you have!