Thu. Jun 13th, 2024

The Story about King Arthur’s Nephew

The Green Knight is not a retelling of the classic story of Sir Gawain drawing a sword from a stone, like Arthur, a strong, honest, and brave knight, as portrayed in other adaptations directed by David Lowery. It also doesn’t focus on battles against dragons and witches. Instead, Lowery adapts an account of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Gawain, King Arthur’s nephew, is depicted as not yet fully bearing the title of a knight and still needing to prove his courage and bravery. Unlike other knights, he hasn’t had his heroic adventure, leaving him without a legendary story for people to tell.

In the film, Lowery humanizes Gawain, making him more relatable to ordinary people who experience their own human journeys filled with temptation. Amidst the surreal fantasies and symbolism, the movie becomes a spiritual journey for Gawain. While he must face enemies and undergo tests to achieve his goals, the true essence lies in his self-recognition, understanding the nature of his enemies, and the trials he encounters.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Although many people perceive The Green Knight as a deconstruction of the hero’s chronicle, it is, in fact, a self-conscious art piece with a verbose style, centering around Sir Gawain. Each time, Lowery seems to relinquish the hope of establishing a deep human connection between Gawain and the history of artistic reinterpretation. As a result, the film becomes somewhat misguided in its directorial approach, focusing heavily on a dense visual agenda.

The original poem, written anonymously in Middle English, has seen numerous adaptations by various authors over the centuries. Even J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of Lord of the Rings, has engaged in translating the text into cinema, stage, or literature, each version presenting slight differences. These adaptations often offer an exciting and unique perspective. However, Lowery’s aesthetic, heavily reliant on suppressing wide-angle lenses, CGI, and elaborate production design, tends to overshadow the film’s wit, thereby leaving potentially rich themes unexplored for future exploration.

The Game

The first sequence shows Gawain’s girlfriend pouring water on him as he woke up late. When questioned about being a knight, Gawain answers lightly, claiming he still has plenty of time. In Lowery’s story, his mother, Morgan, the wizard, becomes concerned about her son’s lackadaisical attitude towards proving himself as a knight. Determined to test him, she secretly prepares a trial.

During a Christmas Eve dinner with King Arthur and the knights in the palace, Morgan summons the Green Knight, who is depicted as half human and half tree, to approach the center of the round table. The Green Knight proposes a game: he will offer a magic weapon to any knight who dares to come forward and injure him. However, certain terms and conditions apply. The knight who accepts the challenge must, in turn, travel to the Green Chapel six nights to the north the following year. The Green Knight will then return the injury in the same manner the knight inflicted upon him.

The Standard Hero’s Path

The Green Knight initially follows the standard hero’s chronicle, but it barely emphasizes sincerity about Sir Gawain. The exception lies in a light romance depicted in a specific down-to-earth scene between Gawain and his girlfriend. However, Gawain remains ruthlessly uncommitted to her before embarking on his journey. Throughout the flashbacks of Gawain’s adventures, the hero exemplifies human-like behavior: imperfect and driven by impure motives from the heart. Along the way, he encounters bandits, a beheaded ghost, a fox, and a group of giants. In search of direction and destiny, Gawain’s vision leads to hallucinatory images.

The film reaches a crucial point in a castle occupied by a nobleman and his wife. They offer Gawain food, rest, and sexual temptations. In each sequence, Gawain makes the right choice but is left questioning why he should agree to the game. The film deftly explores the complexities of Gawain’s character and the challenges he faces throughout his journey.

The Demise of Sir Gawain

The Green Knight is a chronicle about Sir Gawain, the dangers of requiring revision, and the importance of obeying convention. When Lowery opens the film with a picture of Gawain sitting on a throne, a halo descends from above and rests on his head, symbolizing the burden of kingship. The image reflects the unique treatment of the classic hero in a persistent manner. Lowery defines Gawain through his adventures of self-adjustment, challenging the traditional notion of heroes and destiny, and highlighting human error.

Throughout the film, Gawain faces death twice. From these experiences, he gains insights into his potential future. He must choose between making active choices to become the king in his village or completing the game. Despite the seemingly easy decisions, Lowery’s revisionism puts Gawain on a path that leads to death. Gawain understands that his story will be told repeatedly, yet the film’s twists and turns create a strong audience bond with Gawain, largely due to the presence of Dev Patel in the role.

The Poem

In the poem, the author does not explicitly name the Green Knight. He is simply referred to as the Green Chapel Knight. His strange coloration and uncanny ability to live without a head mark him as an otherworldly being, somewhat resembling a Dullahan, but with a green hue and wielding a giant ax. He possesses a tall, muscular physique like that of a giant, and his thick hair reflects his maturity and determination. Unlike the film, he is rude yet bold in his challenges to the court, often referring to humans as mere children.

When Gawain encounters the Green Knight in the Green Chapel, he is once again filled with fear. However, the Green Knight behaves playfully, intentionally toying with Gawain’s psychology and mind before delivering the final blow. He alternately mocks Gawain for his cowardice while praising him for his bravery. Despite the Green Knight’s paradoxical nature, he serves as more of an antagonist, yet still stands apart as the hero’s counterpart.

The poem concludes with the poet letting the Green Knight go without resolving the ambiguity and mystery surrounding him, leaving it open-ended for the readers to ponder.

The Reduction of Medieval Literature

In such times, The Green Knight presents a diversity of symbols and rich imagery. Drawing from typical medieval literature, people began interpreting and recognizing the signs. While some characters and their symbolic meanings may be familiar to modern readers, understanding the deeper significance isn’t always straightforward. For instance, the bandit symbolizes hopelessness, and the fox represents slander, but the full meaning may not be easily discernible.

The difficulty in interpreting medieval literature lies in its historical background. Modern readers are often unfamiliar with the intellectual and cultural context of medieval times. Scholars only have scattered clues to aid in understanding the references and symbols. While many critics have described medieval literature as outright allegory, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight resist reduction to a simple formula. The poem is highly symbolic and embraces ambiguity, which serves as a critical message about the invincibility of human arrogance, our tendency to imagine, control, and attempt to understand everything around us.

The poet presents a flawed yet beautiful world where good and bad are united into one, and nature is inseparable. Both the poetry and the film center around the symbolic richness of Sir Gawain, representing a miniature representation of the world’s diversity, with each symbol carrying its own ambiguity for the reader to interpret.

The Sound of Visual

Back to the film, The Green Knight is not literally about green; rather, it focuses on yellow. Lowery utilizes a deep yellow color for Gawain’s sash, which sets the scene as Gawain encounters the Green Knight in the Green Chapel. The dark shades of yellow symbolize cowardice, which remains Gawain’s main trait as he navigates the game. However, as the film progresses and Gawain becomes bolder, the color of anxiety dissipates, reflecting his transformation.

The film employs dialogue, diction, and rhyme to communicate through symbols, such as objects and colors, contributing to its slow-paced nature, allowing ample time to delve into important bullet points. The characters themselves become symbols in the film. Lowery mischievously re-edited The Green Knight during lockdown, drawing out echoes of color-coded fantasies seen in arthouse films like Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon and even Lars von Trier’s Antichrist, particularly when referencing the fox and nature as the devil’s church.

The addition of a rich, dramatic score by Daniel Hart and Andrew Droz Palermo’s cinematography further enhances the intoxicating charm of the film. Uniquely, Lowery’s artistic appeal stands proudly, solidifying The Green Knight as a masterpiece of poetry in its own right.

The Conceptual Interpretation

The narrative elevation of The Green Knight is akin to a conceptual film that lacks production staff in terms of appearance. At the last minute, without using dialogue, Lowery efficiently directed the push. Additionally, he raises the question of how Indian actor Dev Patel portrays traditional Anglo-centric revivalism during the film’s two hours of contemplation.

Despite facing various criticisms, Lowery received praise from the audience for reimagining a legendary fantasy from medieval literary tales. The film, with its slow pace and abundant symbols, prompts viewers to engage and participate in a thought-provoking game, without emphasizing ease of consumption. Audiences watch the film about the famous knight, with very little traditional heroic content but rather a portrayal of an ordinary human being. They also hear a story of King Arthur from the point of view of a master storyteller at a banquet.


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