The Green Knight

The Green Knight ★★★

Whenever I discus literature with my students I try to teach them that in interpreting what they read there is no real right or wrong as long as you back up what you find with evidence from the text. It's not important what I think or what the author maybe meant, it's just you, the text and what it does to you.

The latter is of course the most difficult, especially because you need to be critical of what you feel and why, a line of thinking that is unfortunately not encouraged enough. Which is a shame because my 16-17 year old students never cease to amaze me with the stuff they find in texts, just by being asked to really think about it.

I was of course taught this way of thinking as well by my brilliant mediaeval and classical literature teacher when I studied English. He had us read everything, from Beowulf to Chaucer to, obviously, the tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Whenever we delved into yet another text he always started with: "It doesn't matter if you don't understand it, find a scene, a character, whatever, that makes you feel something and explore that." I don't think I need to tell you that this was a liberating experience, predominantly because many literature professors value their own opinions above anything else.

I wish Lowery had approached his film the same way.

This is Lowery's interpretation of a medieval poem, so there's no right or wrong here. Whatever criticism I might have is on me, not on him.

Visually, what Lowery has achieved here is absolutely breathtaking. This watches as a collection of tableaux, as a tapestry of allegorical images. I don't know if you've ever seen the Bayeux Tapestry, but this film evoked a similar feeling. You have to watch closely to get the entire picture, every detail matters.

An approach like this requires a methodical mindset and a talent for painting a picture. Lowery clearly possesses both in spades, as this is probably one of the most beautiful films you'll see this year.
What I missed was that emotional link to the source material. The poem certainly allows an exploration of that as it is at points fantastical and really frivolous. For me it was all just too cerebral and pensive, taking me out of the narrative on more than one occasion and making me struggle to remain invested. It relies on thematic imagery too much, making it all feel rather repetitive at points (or was that intentional?). There is a story here and for that story to work you need more than a collection of pictures, you need a connecting thread, in this case a protagonist who is more than his struggle. Not that I feel Patel did a poor job, on the contrary, but he felt like a flat character in a sea of rich detail.

Having said all that, it is impossible to deny the talent involved and I have deep admiration for anyone trying to explore and convey source material as difficult as this.