Let's Discuss 'The Green Knight'
By Sal LoCicero | August 3, 2021 (UPDATED: June 2, 2023)
This week A24’s most anticipated film of the year, ‘The Green Knight’, hit theaters. “The Green Knight’ is the second feature from writer/director David Lowery; the man behind 2017’s ‘A Ghost Story’. This story is about Sir. Gawain (Dev Patel) who goes on a quest to find the Green Knight. Yes, the synopsis is that simple.
Now, going into ‘The Green Knight’ there are few things you should know, this is not your ordinary medieval tale. It is based on the 14th-century Arthurian poem ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’. This film probably isn’t what you think it may be, while it may have been marketed as a gripping fantasy thriller, that’s not what it is. The filmmaker has also made some major switches from the original tale to the modern adaption for the story to be relevant - so if you’re a huge fan of the book, this telling may not be familiar. For all the mainstream audiences out there, here’s a heads up, ‘The Green Knight’ will not be the movie you walk out of and it exceeds your expectations. This is an excruciatingly complex arthouse film that does not give you any opportunity to understand what the hell is going on through the majority of its runtime.
A few weeks ago, critics got the chance to see ‘The Green Knight’ and review it. All of the reviews were fantastic with almost every critic gushing over the film. Many praised the cinematography, the story, Dev Patel’s performance, David Lowery directing, and the score. With that, of course brought even higher expectations among fans and film lovers alike. But as usual, when it comes to A24, one side can never agree with the other. Right now, Audiences aren’t diggin’ it - which is far from a shocker. Many complained about how long, slow and boring the movie is.
‘The Green Knight’ challenges audiences to the best of its abilities. There are many moments throughout our main character’s adventure that are peculiar. There are also some scenes that give you a hint to what possibly happened during certain unexplainable events. At times it feels like a dream and other times you may wonder if somebody slipped something in your popcorn and made you hallucinate the whole thing.
Since there are many theories about what took place, we have some ideas as to what really happened.
WHAT HAPPENED To SIR GAWAIN IN THE FOREST?
During Gawain’s journey to confront the Green Knight, he encounters a Scavenger (Barry Keoghan) and two thieves who tie Gawain to his knees while they steal his belongings. Once the Scavenger takes out a sword that belongs to Gawain, the Scavenger takes Gawain’s horse (and most of his belongings) and runs away with it. The two thieves suddenly chase after the Scavenger leaving Gawain stuck in the forest.
Then we get a slow 360 degree shot of Gawain alone in the forest. We get one shot of Gawain still tied up, then we get a shot of a skeleton in the same exact clothing as him. This scene gives us a hint that he could be dead, or It could be a figurative expression of the pain that Gawain feels inside. After the shot of the skeleton in the same clothing, the camera takes another turn back to Gawain alive in the same position as he was before.
This entire scene alone could be Lowery foreshadowing how painful his journey will continue to be and how the atmosphere around him is scary and unpredictable, because things get a lot more bonkers after that.
WINIFRED AND HER HEAD
Through Gawain’s journey, he meets a young woman named Winifred who is in search of her head. Winifred asks Gawain to find her head, she tells him it's in the lake. He swims in and grabs it. Once he gets out of the lake he sees that Winifred is no longer there as well as her head. Winifred wanting Gawain to retrieve her head foreshadows how Gawain is to end up at the finale of his journey.
Winifred is a ghost who had a tragic death due to an attempted rape, and murder from a prince. While Lowery doesn’t dive deep into this subplot (nor this entire story), there could be a connection to both Gawain and Winifred in that they both suffered. Winifred was almost raped and then was decapitated by a prince. Gawain was robbed and tied to a rope, by the end of the film he dies the same way Winifred did. Both stories connect with each other in certain ways.
One of the strangest moments is the scene where Gawain sees giants walking the Earth. He asks one of them if he can ride on the back of their shoulder, as one of the giants lean over to try and touch Gawain, he backs away.
This might be one of the biggest hidden meanings. The giants walking on earth represent how ginormous the outside world around him is and how Gawain has so much to learn and experience on the way, but it’s very complex and immense for him. When Gawain steps away from the giant when it reaches for him, that shows his fear and how uncertain he is about continuing the journey to see the Green Knight. It’s his fear of what he will encounter next.
THE LORD AND THE CASTLE
Here is where the movie really takes a turn. Gawain arrives at a castle at night. The next day, he meets The Lord (Joel Edgerton), The Lay (Alicia Vikander) and an elderly woman who is sightless. He talks to both The Lord and The Lay, he eats with the two of them, and The Lay offers him sexual pleasure. The scene is very weird, mostly because The Lay is the same person as Essel; Gawain’s wife.
The scenery that is shown in the background throughout the entire castle sequence looks as bright and ass beautiful as Heaven. The scenes gives off so much brightness all around to the point where it becomes obvious that it is all a dream. It’s Gawain’s fantasy what he would love to be around after his journey, although he understands his tasks and the risks that are to come.
After the pleasure sequence, Gawain spots the sightless woman standing to the left of him, as if she has been watching Gawain and The Lay the whole time. This causes Gawain to freak out, where he then runs and leaves the castle. When he is outdoors in the wilderness, there is no bright scenery vanishes.
FANTASY VS REALITY
Towards the end, Gawain finally arrives at the Green Knight. Once he's arrived, he sits down and closes his eyes. Then Gawain wakes up, while the Green Knight stands up with his Axe and is prepared to decapitate Gawain. When about to, Gawain is too frightened to accept what is about to happen. He runs away from the Green Knight in fear and goes back to his home with his wife.
Every scene jumps to later in his life. Gawain and his wife enjoy their time together, they have a baby, the king dies, Gawain gets older, they are in middle of a war, Gawain becomes powerless, his people start to give up on him, and by the end of that scene, Gawain is left sitting on the throne deeply upset knowing that the enemies are going to attack him and everyone that is still with him.
Then the scene abruptly cuts right back to where Gawain is about to be decapitated. He tells the Green Knight to give him a moment as he gets ready. Gawain takes his green robe off, and replies “I'm ready now”. The Green Knight say to Gawain “Off with your head”, and then the end credits montage rolls.
After the journey, Gawain has had enough of everything that he has suffered through. He goes to the Green Knight, and prepares to die. The fantasy aspect is that he could easily choose to run away and go back home with his wife and hopefully live happily ever after. Everything is fine until they are at war and lose. The vision shows that if Gawain were to choose that path, things would’ve started out well in the beginning but would eventually turn sideways, leaving Gawain exactly how he was from the start having learned nothing.
This reality shows that Gawain accepts what was about to happen, it shows that he has grown throughout his journey and is not afraid anymore. It shows the bravery and matureness that is now within him.
‘The Green Knight’ camouflages itself as a medieval tale, but with David Lowery modernizing the concept, the film is really about one person's voyage through the challenges of life. In a way, this could be the next ‘Spirited Away’. Both movies include heavy symbolism that makes for a strong message about growth and life.