The Green Knight was probably the second most anticipated A24 film this year I was excited for after Saint Maud and this would be the first time I ever heard of this mid-14th century Arthurian mythic morality tale so of course, it perplexed me in the best of ways. I’m both familiar and unfamiliar with Gawain thanks to a certain Monty Python reference and despite being accustomed to four out of many Arthurian characters, my history is a little spotty.
Let me just say I am thankful for that three minute ad on YouTube and even more grateful for A24 for continuing to not let me down!
Dev Patel is an interesting case for me because I haven’t seen him in anything since THE LAST AIRBENDER and I didn’t even know he was in that. But I put my biases aside and…..DAMN, is he one of the best parts of this movie. I’d say it’s a close contender for his best performance yet; his quiet revered magnetism probably won’t make this the most memorable iteration of the character but it is memorable and inspiring nonetheless.
Everyone else is about as impactful as him to an extent, even if their characters don’t get as much time to show their relevance to the story; then again, you will have to do some history to understand a good chunk of these characters and their significance here.
From an visual standpoint, the entire movie is aesthetically pleasing; looking like it upholds the true weirdness of Arthurian/medieval legend. The lush, gorgeous countryside supplies this production design with a heart-gripping exhibit of urgency in an admittedly empty landscape, also highlighting an imperfect but delicate balance between the wonders of the great outdoors and the untamed horrors it brings along with it. Take in mind the color palette as well, noting the dull, almost industrial grays and harsh lighting of the castle to luminous forests, colorful surfaces and geographical landscapes popping off the screen. A lot of Arthurian adaptations try to make these stories clean-cut, sensible and realistic but here it works far against that formula from visuals alone to its advantage.
Carrying over into its atmosphere, there’s a sinister and downright discordant energy resonating all throughout the proceedings, something the films sinuous, winding cinematography establishes from the very first frame and solidifies David Lowery’s blueprint in making a non-traditional adventure film.
His direction makes no attempt to modernize the story, thus turning his trademark into a curious and rather risky effort to co-exist alongside the lush and meditative writing and the eerie, period-piece appropriate score from Daniel Hart. CGI takes a page out of LOTR territory, complimenting the practical effects alongside it instead of spewing all over the screen and ruining the moment while dialogue also takes the enigmatic route, fostering an intricacy as richly textured and layered as the themes it thematically exploits.
Many themes resonate through this story, most of which are still relevant today: from the rough and sometimes indifferent complexion of nature, adherence to the code of chivalry, temptation, honor, most of them are great stepping stones into this adaptation of Gawain’s on-going character arc, him wrestling less with adversity and more with illicit desire and his own cowardice in the face of impending death. It’s here that he has to come to terms with his imposter syndrome and the self-conviction it takes to actually become a Knight and die with some virtue rather than live a lie.
The ending can be a little despondent and bittersweet given the illusion between what people think happened and what actually did but that’s the beauty to these types of stories to me: let them be open-ended, let them force people to question the events that transpired to get to whatever conclusion that follows them. A massive sign of respect towards hit the audience.
Quite the elusive experience from such a refined filmmaker from a studio that has upped the ante since their inception 9 years ago. Comparing this now to the likes of Judas And the Black Messiah, my choice of film of the year is now a middle of the road tie which means….yes, this is currently in the running for my best film of the year as biased as it might come off as. Choosing between which one’ll be superior will be a tassel but this’ll be a lot of fun.