The Green Knight (2021)
The Green Knight (2021)

Genre: Fantasy Running Time: 2 hrs. 5 min.

Release Date: July 30th, 2021 MPAA Rating: R

Director: David Lowery Actors: Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sean Harris, Kate Dickie, Sarita Choudhury, Ralph Ineson, Erin Kellyman

 


 

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n alternating swathes of exceedingly enigmatic and excruciatingly protracted sequences, “The Green Knight” examines the myths and legends involved in becoming a myth and legend. While the film’s protagonist stumbles through a shaky realization of the clashing nature of the goal he seeks and the real sacrifices involved in obtaining it, each scene swells with dramatic visualizations and thunderous sound, barreling down upon a catharsis that never comes. True intentions and concrete explanations often fail to push through the surmounting fog, both literal and symbolic. The opening voiceover warns that this is not a familiar tale of swords in stones, but a fantasy retelling – one that unfortunately sacrifices impact and intrigue in favor of surrealistic imagery and poetic babble.

Rambunctious, feckless young Gawain (Dev Patel) spends his days drinking and squandering coin on the lascivious Essel (Alicia Vikander) while dreaming of being a knight. So when a menacing intruder interrupts a Christmas meal with the King (Sean Harris), demanding a warrior to accept an ominous challenge, Gawain is swift to volunteer. But the deceptive duel comes with dire consequences, forcing the brash young man to travel north to a distant locale teeming with untold danger, deceit, and death.

“Are you a knight yet?” Based on a chivalric romance by an anonymous author (and written and directed by David Lowery), the initial moments go to great lengths to establish a specific atmosphere – one of cascading ash, perpetual mistiness, high humidity, flickering lights, a chiming bell tower, muddy animals, and tattered clothing. A certain dirtiness pervades the scenery, from scroungy countenances to whorehouse denizens to dilapidated structures, before a cold stone castle’s round table becomes a centerpiece for the visitation of the otherworldly green knight. The environments are striking, even if they’re conspicuously arranged, lending to the look of a “Game of Thrones” or “The Witcher” episode. In its best moments, “The Green Knight” reminds of a Frazetta painting come to life, or an R-rated update to Harryhausen fantasies.

Unfortunately, despite the attention to visual details, a heavy stylization in the editing makes it rapidly apparent that this isn’t going to be a traditional swords-and-sorcery adventure. In fact, there’s practically no sense of adventure to be found at all; the epic quest is fraught with hallucinogenic interludes more than a straightforward narrative. As one year must pass before Gawain sets out for his destiny, a curious slowness sinks in; the attention to artistic cinematography (light and shadow are uncommon priorities), moody framing, and environmental details prevent any action from getting underway. And once Gawain finds himself in the unforgiving clutches of forest bandits, any sense of customary questing evaporates; the happenings grow so freakish, introducing nearly comical levels of eccentricity, that it feels as if interactions could devolve into a Monty Python sketch at any second.

“I fear I’m not meant for greatness.” The film isn’t just designed around delaying excitement; it’s not intended at all as an exercise in swashbuckling peplum. One arcane mission after another shifts the tale not only away from the already phantasmagoric qualities of medieval pictures like “Ladyhawke” or “Legend” (or the mythical interpretations of something like “The Company of Wolves”) but also into the sci-fi realms of “Zardoz” or “Annihilation.” Clearly, this adaptation is targeted toward a very select group of moviegoers; general audiences will be utterly baffled (it also shares recognizable actor Barry Keoghan with the equally abstruse “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”). At one point, Gawain devours wild mushrooms – an act that Lowery might have opted for himself while penning the plot; the events here are so routinely ungraspable that they might as well be part of some psychedelic trip.

“This house is full of strange things.” Occasionally, the separately titled vignettes-of-sort tiptoe across horror tropes, but never fully embrace visual terror. In the same pattern, countless scenes ramp up tension and forbidding imagery, only to stop far short of awe; nearly every sequence abruptly ends its build to stumble into anticlimactic weirdness. Meanings and messages are present, should one dig for them (at its simplest, a lesson about idealized knighthood), but the characters are so unsympathetic and abnormal and illogical that the story merely deteriorates into less and less satisfying visions of fantastical esotericism.

– The Massie Twins

  • 3/10