WHAT I LIKED: Surrealism is often a term used to describe anything in a film that has no obvious rational meaning or relation to reality, and there are many scenes in David Lowery's adaptation of King Arthur's nephew Gawain confronting 'The Green Knight,' that certainly fit that definition at first glance.
For example, the whole thing opens with the titular antagonist realised as a giant tree challenging Dev Patel's Gawain to strike him in return for his exacting revenge in a year's time, and we later see Gawain retrieve a ghost's decapitated head from a pond for no apparent reason, and him encounter an army of fog-clouded bald statues on the way to meet said revenge.
But in reality, all of those scenes aren't building some subtle atmosphere or message about the characters or themes as great surrealist films do; they're just there to bring the mythology to life, and to rather functionally drag Dev Patel through the woods on his hero's journey.
We know this because even though the events depicted are a little strange, the cinematic language is actually extremely overt and on the nose. In the opening confrontation for example, Daniel Hart's score swells absurdly, the scene cuts constantly to Gawain's terrified mother, and the King waits on baited breath, all whilst the camera zooms in on Patel's face who's clearly established as someone as scared as he is desperate to prove himself.
That over-egged directorial approach isn't necessarily an issue of course, and the slightly odd take on the events does captivate to some degree, but really it's the humanity fighting for its place within all of that which is the engaging thing, as Dev Patel brings the central conflict of his character to life brilliantly.
Then, a final-act monologue from his lover Alicia Vikander about how his quest to prove himself is pointless and foolish (something about the red of blood inevitably turning to the decaying, inconsequential green of death) brilliantly puts that struggle into some kind of perspective, and that addmittedly lends the inevitable conclusion - even its more surreal turns - a degree of poignancy.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: In the end, the humanity gets rather lost amongst the attempts at surrealism, as they feel like unnecessary tangents. In fact, if anything, they point to a lack of faith in simple performances to tell a character's story on Lowery's part, or at the very least a lack of direcorial discipline and restraint. Whatever the case though, it muddies a potentially interesting character journey into something often rather tiring and inaccessible.
VERDICT: David Lowery's mythical and strange 'The Green Knight,' sends Dev Patel on an illusory and terrified hero's journey to prove himself, but it's often undermined by overt and largely aimless attempts at surrealism.