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REVIEW: The Green Knight Takes Audiences On a Mesmerizing Journey
Sandy Schaefer
2021-07-29T04:01:26
Dev Patel in The Green Knight
Dev Patel in The Green Knight
As with many A24 offerings, The Green Knight is an elusive yet fascinating piece of cinema. Directed and adapted for the screen by David Lowery, it re-imagines the Arthurian legend, also known as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, as a mystifying odyssey that melds horror with medieval fantasy. The result of this unique blending is a mesmerizing adventure and a rewarding experience for viewers with the patience to engage with the film on its own terms.
Accompanied by omniscient voiceover narration that recalls the opening to Peter Jackson's Lords of the Rings trilogy, The Green Knight begins with Sir Gawain (Dev Patel) sitting calmly on a throne before his head abruptly bursts into flames. An excellent tone-setter for what's to come, this sequence demonstrates Lowery isn't limiting himself to drawing inspiration from films solely based on Arthurian legends. Instead, The Green Knight carefully remixes elements from sources like A24's The Witch, as well as '70s and '80s fantasy epics in the vein of Willow and Legend.
Alicia Vikander and Dev Patel in The Green Knight
Alicia Vikander and Dev Patel in The Green Knight
The world of The Green Knight has a tangible and tactile quality, thanks to production designer Jade Healy, who previously collaborated with Lowery on A Ghost Story. Its sets feel lived-in and worn down by age. Lowery also works beside A Ghost Story's cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo, using natural light and shadows to hide any fringes in the movie's low-budget scenery. Once Gawain ventures from home, however, The Green Knight expands visually by capturing sweeping panoramas of the majestic Irish countrysides where the movie was filmed.
While The Green Knight is gorgeous and teeming with life, its version of Camelot is desolate. King Arthur (Sean Harris) and Queen Guinevere (Kate Dickie) are as sickly-looking as their kingdom, which has fallen into disarray. As Gawain journeys to confront the titular character at his mysterious home, the Green Chapel, audiences are treated to a shot of a landscape stripped barren by deforestation. The film then sees our hero encountering an unscrupulous scavenger (Barry Keoghan) as the pair cross a field littered with arrow-strewn corpses in the aftermath of battle.
Sir Gawain (Dev Patel) in The Green Knight
Sir Gawain (Dev Patel) in The Green Knight
By comparison, the Green Knight himself (Ralph Ineson) is a splendid force of nature who, thanks to the film's expert sound editing, creaks and groans with every move as though he were an actual tree set loose from the ground. His realm is just as sprawling and unknowable, filled with talking animals, melancholic spirits and giants the size of mountains. One could interpret Lowery's The Green Knight as a timely environmental parable, based on the way it juxtaposes humanity's capacity for greed and destruction with nature's fierce-but-fair attitude. Furthermore, the film is overtly critical of Christianity and in favor of Paganism more so than other retellings of this legend.
Purely on the surface level, The Green Knight is a richly atmospheric and surreal narrative whose protagonist is believably uncertain of himself. Indeed, rather than portraying him as some kind of medieval superhero, Patel embraces Gawain's fears and insecurities with his performance, which makes him all the more captivating to watch. Lowery is just as successful in sexualizing Gawain without objectifying Patel in the process, allowing him to be one of the hornier warriors to grace the big screen in some time. Moreover, unlike other recent examples of color-blind casting, Gawain's race is significant to his characterization as an outsider long overlooked by Arthur, much to the latter's regret.
Dev Patel in The Green Knight (2021)
Dev Patel in The Green Knight (2021)
This version of The Green Knight also does right by its women, giving Alicia Vikander a fair amount to do as both Gawain's earnest love interest Esel and her doppelgänger, the wealthy and seductive Lady who offers Gawain everything he could want. Gawain's mother (Sarita Choudhury) is similarly re-imagined as Arthur's other half-sister, Morgan Le Fay, evolving her into a powerful yet nurturing being who pushes her son to undertake a quest that, should he survive it, will transform him into an honorable and chivalrous person. Along with a scene where Gawain corrects an injustice done to Saint Winifred (Erin Kellyman), the film quietly rejects toxic masculinity through Gawain's interactions with the women around him.
Far from a rip-roaring blockbuster, The Green Knight is a moody deconstruction of Arthurian lore that's loaded with metaphors. Lowery completely re-edited the film after it was delayed from its original release in 2020 and it shows. The final edition is methodical in the way it combines long, uninterrupted takes with quick cuts and flashes of dramatic imagery. Daniel Hart's score, a soundscape of choral singing and ethereal instrumentation, further transports audiences into its fantastical setting, long before the movie reaches its shocking and evocative climax. No need to wait a year and a day: Those who are ready and willing would do well to seek out The Green Knight, one of the best and sure to be heavily-discussed films to premiere in 2021.
The Green Knight opens in U.S. theaters on July 30.
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