Review: The Green Knight (2021)

A tricky film with plenty of action and adventure, The Green Knight leaves audiences pondering its unlikely course of events. The movie focuses on a young man of King Arthur’s court who chooses to prove himself by accepting to play a game with the magical Green Knight, summoned by Morgan Le Fay. Gawain goes on a perilous journey to fulfill his side of the game and ends his quest at the Green Chapel to meet again with the Knight.
Going into the movie having read the text it is based on, “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” I had an idea of how the story would play out. The essence of the movie is the same, but some incidents that take place diverge from those in the text. The film focuses more on the action and less on the meaning of the story, which is what I enjoyed the most about the poem. I was therefore irritated that I didn’t get the sense of awe at the movie that I had with the text.
Many aspects of the movie confused me, both because I didn’t understand at first exactly what was happening, and because I didn’t understand how they were important to the plot. The scenes in which Gawain has hallucinations, for example, are wholly unnecessary and only confused me with their oddity.
Gawain’s encounter with the scavengers in the forest and his stay in the house of St. Winifred are original to the movie. Although they serve to stretch out the story for the length of a feature film, they cut into the time that could have been used to explore parts of the story that are in the text, such as Gawain’s visit to Lord Bertilak’s castle.
Morgan Le Fay’s interference and tests are very much in the background of the poem, but the changes the movie makes to bring her character to the forefront also makes the magical aspects of the tale more obvious. I liked that the director, David Lowery, puts an emphasis on Morgan Le Fay (a powerful, clever, female faerie!) but I wasn’t so impressed by how he chose to display her magic. It is hard to make the connection between Morgan Le Fay and her magic throughout the movie because of the way the clips are filmed and put together.
The ambiguous ending of the movie only nods to Gawain’s fate in the text. I was shocked when the movie ended before I expected it to, and disappointed that Gawain’s fate is unknown at the end of the movie. The ending of the text is so meaningful and connects so beautifully to scenes woven throughout the story, but in the movie you don’t get as much of a sense of the moral or Gawain’s character development.
Most strikingly, the story is told in a very interesting way. There is hardly any dialogue in the movie, so most of the story-telling is laid out through music, sounds, lighting, and creative filming techniques. To fully understand the film, you have to remember characters’ faces, analyze lighting decisions, and follow the carefully laid out path of meaningful objects. The film leaves you thinking. It has enough of an impact that it sticks in your mind for longer than the five minutes you discuss it on your way out of the theatre.

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