The Green Knight

The Green Knight ★★★★

Gorgeous, ethereal, mythical, with costumes to die for. The structure of The Green Knight is that of a quest, of course, which means meeting people along the way. While Dev Patel anchors the film with a solid presence, both Barry Keoghan and Alicia Vikander get standout sections of mischief.

Outside of the surface level beauty—of which, this is a feast—what I like about The Green Knight is how it's ultimately about the uselessness of many acts of celebrated heroism. Here, a young man (Patel)—who rests his wine hangovers in a brothel and has some familial ties to King Arthur (Sean Harris)—desires to be a knight for the honor and respect that comes with it. But he hasn't put in the work. A Green Knight is conjured and provides a challenge: strike me with a sword and you will receive the same cut from me in one year. Seizing this as an opportunity to show bravery, Sir Gawain delivers what should be a fatal cut. But the earthy Green Knight replenishes and for Sir Gawain, his heroism will be achieved in accepting his fate a year later. (Ralph Ineson's voice is the perfect tenor for the Green Knight, seemingly coming from the earth's core itself.)

Poems will be written, songs will be sung, and parades will be held, but what point would this act of acceptance of his fate hold? The quest puts Sir Gawain in the position to do more honorable actions when put on a path of righteousness. But the expression—if a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, does it still make a sound?—is applicable to one's private deeds as well. His mother (Sarita Choudhuryki) fashions a chance to cheat death with a spell sown into a garment. Which is more noble, to accept a pointless death or to escape it? The tone, like a riddle, remains mysterious from opening to end.

The Green Knight flows like a river downstream, with some breakaways into tributaries that rejoin the larger body of water. David Lowery's direction and focus are set to an organic pace. It all feels grounded and terra firma despite some fantastical elements. Some offshoots of the journey carry more weight than others and our knight's concern for being perceived as honorable keeps him at a distance, for he does not know himself throughout most of the journey. I look forward to seeing it again to see if some of the areas that left me with questions (largely around Joel Edgerton's noble hunter) reveal themselves more on a second viewing (Note: I have now seen it twice and included some thoughts on Edgerton/Vikander's section in another review marked with a spoiler warning). It ends on a single cutting line of dialogue, a choice I often love, and here it reinforces the theme that seemed to be coursing throughout all of this: the individual futility and solitude that exists in most of our handed down tall tales.

Honor in war is death, but honor in nature is life. Humans choose war so much for fleeting honor. And nature is paying the price.

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