MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
The Green Knight - In Theaters
Directed by David Lowery
Starring Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander
When I was in college, I took a course in Early English Literature just to fulfill basic liberal arts requirements. The required reading included The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer, Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. I remember really enjoying Sir Gawain and the Green Knight but mostly for the way that it was written. I really couldn’t tell you exactly what it meant.
Finally, here is the film version of this long poem by an unknown writer. Having viewed writer-director David Lowery’s take on the tale I still don’t know exactly what it means, but I was able to at least arrive at a satisfactory interpretation (which landed somewhere between a young man’s journey towards chivalry and The Last Temptation of Christ). And there is at least a half dozen other ways to approach this film, which would seem to make it a great movie for discussion, if you can find viewers who will enjoy this slow-paced and hard-to-describe movie.
At the beginning of the tale, Gawain (Patel) is not a knight at all but the nephew of King Arthur (Sean Harris) and the son of Morgan Le Fey (Sarita Choudhury), well acquainted with sorcery. Gawain is enjoying a carefree life of drunkenness and debauchery with the love of his life, Essel (Vikander), a prostitute. Gawain is keeping company with the Knights of the Round Table on a Christmas morning when the Green Knight (Ralph Ineson) enters the room. He is covered in shrubbery, symbolic of a pagan worldview. and challenges the group to a game. He dares one of them to strike a blow on his neck. All hesitate, but Gawain takes his axe and neatly decapitates the Green Knight. Not only does this not kill the knight, but he challenges Gawain (with head in hand) to meet up with him one year hence to allow him to return the blow.
A year is a long time, indeed, and Gawain decides to fritter away his time until he is reminded by Arthur that he needs to be get seriously busy. This knight’s errand will include moments of grace (including the companionship of a magical fox) as well as moments of defeat and humility. As Gawain enters into this world of fog and forest, we are invited to come along. And whatever you might think is going to happen next – you will be wrong.
The movie has several sex scenes, but no eroticism. It includes war, but no battles. It implies the conflict of Christian faith vs. paganism, but there is no mention of Christ.
Yes, this is a confounding film, but it is one that I know I will enjoy revisiting, since I found it to be a haunting work of art, with another great performance from Dev Patel. Wisdom suggests that even the mildly curious might want to wait to see this when it comes to streaming and/or DVD, although it looks the best on the big screen. Diminishing pandemic box office receipts suggest that you won’t have to wait a year to meet up with The Green Knight.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Four halos: An atmospheric and slowly paced tale of knighthood, honor and chivalry that refuses to provide easy interpretations.
Three pitchforks: Several scenes of sexual intercourse, but without graphic nudity; drunkenness; graphic but non-realistic violence; a scene of the aftermath of war, including violent death.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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