A24 cranks out some of the most intriguing genre filmmaking in modern cinema, and The Green Knight serves as proof that they curate their options carefully. Visually stunning, morally complex, and unconventionally bizarre, the dark fantasy uses breathtaking scope to fully-form its massive world. The film takes inspiration from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, while writer/director David Lowery peppers his signature style into every mile of Gaiwan’s perilous journey.
As the film opens with Dev Patel’s Sir Gaiwan seated on a throne, smoldering flames spread across his visage. By presenting an eye-catching visual this early on, Lowery sets the stage for everything to follow with flair. Gaiwan is King Arthur’s rowdy nephew (one who mostly seems to spend his time galavanting around the local whorehouse), but like Arthur, it appears Gaiwan has a destiny of his own to embrace. A creepy emerald-skinned stranger, (the titular Green Knight, played by Ralph Ineson) who looks to be practically made of tree bark, comes riding into town on a horse, with the prospect of an eerie “Christmas game.”
This “game” is the basis for both the crux of the story, as well as the root of the more fantastical elements. The Green Knight welcomes any challenger to come, take up arms, and face off against him. Should he land a blow, this opponent will lay claim to the Green Knight’s massive axe. But there is a catch: one year later, one must go to the Green Chapel, bend the knee, and allow the Green Knight to return the blow thrust upon him. Naturally, only one potential steps up to the plate: Gaiwan himself will clash with the Green Knight.
What follows presents all manner of Game of Thrones-style traveling, impressive realistic CGI in virtually every facet of the production, and yet another phenomenal performance from Dev Patel. The young actor has been delivering exceptional output since his early days on Skins, and seeing the expansion of his growing filmography in real time has truly been a treat. Gaiwan is equal parts buffoon and hero, but the movie chooses not to take a stance either way. Instead, the character is filled with layers of meaning—the complexities make it so that Gaiwan is not just your standard run-of-the-mill heroic figure. His likability largely lies in Patel’s charismatic turn.
Parts of the film are named as if read straight from an extravagant book, and recurring imagery paints a portrait of deep curiosity and meaning. Multiple creepy rotting bones, talking heads, towering giants… The Green Knight has it all and more! My favorite recurring iconography comes in the form of an adorable fox that becomes Gaiwan’s constant companion. Symbolism is everywhere, including the idea that “green is what’s left when passion dies.” Themes of strength, courage, and honor are slathered all over The Green Knight like an especially delicious topping.
While audience members desiring a quicker pace to the proceedings may walk away feeling cheated, every bit of The Green Knight is masterfully executed as the looming threat of the signature battle hangs overhead. This sprawling masterpiece leaves one with much to contemplate via an unforgettable closing line of dialogue, all buoyed by the calculated pacing of the final act. I have no doubt in my mind that The Green Knight is a movie that will only be strengthened by repeat visits into this world—I know I am anxious to revisit it already. Now, off with your head!
The Green Knight is galloping into your town, and is currently available in theaters and on VOD.
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