'The Green Knight' Review: Helping You Fail English Class All Over Again
Ah, Gawain and the Green Knight, may you never change. This classic chivalric romance has been confusing English majors worldwide since the middle ages, and David Lowery's 2021 retelling starring Dev Patel does its absolute best to continue this trend. Let's not mince words; The Green Knight is a visual and auditory feast that slingshots itself repeatedly between horror, drama, and even comedy, with a wild abandon that teeters on the brink of the psychedelic. So much of this film is left to dead space, music, and silence to tell a story that arguably was unknowable, to begin with, that I would imagine that it will leave most viewers with what I could only describe as 'cinematic blue-balls.' There is this pervasive intensity that carries itself through the whole film that begs for a release that never comes. And because of it, you're left there wondering, "what the hell did I just watch?" For those of you unfamiliar with the source material Gawain (who is most definitely not a knight) is an attendee of the court of a sickly King Arthur and the knights of the round table, who are feasting one Christmas morning when a giant green knight that looks strikingly like "treebeard" in plate mail shows up and challenges the court to a game. The game is simple, Mr. Green will grant a knight the opportunity to land a blow of him (be it a small cut or a cut-throat), and in one year's time, he will return the blow in kind. A proverbial shot for shot or smote for smote, if you will. Gawain, when you boil it down is just a man drunk on his youth, looking to prove himself in the world. He is, naturally, also the only one in the room dumb enough to take the knight on and promptly leaps over the table and opts that the best thing to do is lop the guy's head off. You know, classic Christmas festivities. Of course, if it was that simple, it wouldn't be much of a story, so naturally, the knight picks his head off the floor and reiterates that Gawain has 1 year to meet him at his "green chapel" so that they can continue their game. Seems simple enough, right? By all rights, this should be a relatively linear narrative to tell. A coming of age story wrapped in Arthurian legend, where a man experience trials and tribulations that ultimately turn him into a better man. Hero's journey 101 type stuff. At least that's what your English professor who's paid to pretend he understands this story, would say. I myself, on the other hand, disagree. Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire, Lion) certainly does an excellent job of mirroring the confusion and fear of the audience as he stumbles his way through the miserable English countryside through the dead of winter as the cowardly Gawain but this alone can't carry the film. On this journey, he encounters bandits, ghosts, giants, and the weirdest daughter/father relationship I've ever seen to provide absolutely no evidence of character development. Again, he was never a knight to begin with, so the bar was already low but the deeper we get into the story, the more the narrative begins to unravel. The entire thing feels as though you're watching Gawain continuously illustrate not only his cowardice but juvenile demeanor. By the time we reach the climax the whole experience feels like a fever dream. It is only in these final minutes of the movie, that our protagonist gains an epiphany that crams all of his development into 5 minutes of screen time, and then abruptly, the film ends. But if it was only this final moment in which that the character gained any wisdom then truly why bother with the rest of it? It served no purpose aside from keeping the audience in a constant state of uneasy tension never fully understanding what is taking place. And that's the crux of it. This arthouse adaptation, while beautiful to look at, rely's too heavily on its visual nuance and ultimately leaves the viewer frustrated. This is disappointing because normally this is the kind of cinema I love best. Maybe a smarter individual might get it. Perhaps the whole point is to not get it at and certainly, there is room in cinema for tasteful ambiguity, but ultimately the overabundance of artistry loses sight of the story it's telling in favor of creating an overarching tense atmosphere for its audience.