The Green Knight: the Chronicle of Sir Gawain

The Story about King Arthur’s Nephew

The Green Knight is not a chronicle of Sir Gawain to draw a sword from a stone-like Arthur, a strong, honest, brave knight from director David Lowery. It is not a story against dragons and witches either. Instead, Lowery adapted an account of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Gawain is King Arthur’s nephew. Besides not yet fully bearing the title of knight, he also has not proven his courage and bravery.

Apart from not having his adventure, he does not yet have a heroic story for people to tell. Lowery, in the film, makes Gawain more relatable to the ordinary people who have to go through a human journey through temptation. Behind all the surreal fantasies and symbolism, the film is a spiritual journey. Even if Gawain has to defeat an enemy in a test to find a goal, it is about recognizing who he is, the enemy, and the trial.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Although most people think the film is a deconstruction of the hero’s chronicle, The Green Knight is a self-conscious art of verbose style about Sir Gawain. Each time, Lowery gave up hope of making a human connection between Gawain and the history of artistic reinterpretation. However, the film is misguided when it comes to the director’s dense visual agenda. Written anonymously, many authors have adapted the poetry from Middle English.

Over the centuries, including J.R.R. Tolkien, author of Lord of the Rings, the translation of the text into cinema, stage, or literature proves a slight difference each time. Sometimes, it has an exciting way in every adaptation. Regardless, Lowery’s aesthetic of suppressing wide-angle lenses, influenced by CGI and elaborate production design, instead of the film’s wit, go beyond itself to leave potentially rich themes for later.

The Game

The first sequence shows Gawain’s girlfriend pouring water on Gawain because he woke up late. He could only answer lightly because he still had plenty of time when people questioned him about being a knight. In Lowery’s story, his mother—Morgan, the wizard—began to worry about his son’s attitude. Gawain was never serious about proving himself a knight. Therefore, the mother, without anyone’s knowledge, prepared a test for him. During a Christmas Eve dinner with King Arthur and the knights in the palace, the mother summons the Green Knight.

He is half human and half tree, heading towards the center of the round table. Green Knight proposed a game. He will give the knight a magic weapon for a knight who dares to come forward and injure him. However, some terms and conditions apply. The following year, the knights had to go to the Green Chapel six nights in the north. The Green Knight would wait to injure the knight precisely the same way the knight did at night.

The Standard Hero’s Path

The Green Knight at first follows a standard hero’s chronicle but barely notes sincerity about Sir Gawain. As an exception, there is a light romance in a specific down-to-earth scene between Gawain and his girlfriend. However, Gawain remained ruthlessly uncommitted to her before taking one step into the journey. In the flashbacks of Gawain’s adventures, the hero stands for human-like behavior: impure from the heart.

He meets bandits, a beheaded ghost, a fox, and a group of giants along the way. In search of direction and destiny, Gawain’s vision leads to a hallucinatory image. The film hits a dead-end in a castle occupied by a nobleman and his wife. They offered Gawain food, rest, and sexual temptations. In each sequence, Gawain makes the right choice but is forced to question why he should agree with the game.

The Demise of Sir Gawain

The Green Knight is a chronicle about Sir Gawain, the dangers of requiring revision, and obeying convention. When Lowery opens the film with a picture of Gawain sitting on a throne, a halo descends from above. After resting on his head, the crown and man burned. The image reflects a special treatment of the classic hero in a persistent manner. Lowery defined Gawain with his adventures about self-adjustment. With the traditional notion of heroes and destiny, it is about human error. Throughout the film, Gawain faces death both times.

From these deaths, he saw the potential for the future, which lay ahead. There are two options: he can make active choices until he becomes king in his village or finishes the game. Despite the easy decisions, Lowery’s revisionism put Gawain on death row. Gawain has known time and time again that his story will be told again and again. However, the point of the film’s twists and turns offers an audience bond with Gawain from the presence of Dev Patel.

The Poem

In the poem, the author does not mention the Green Knight. It is just about a man who knows him as a Green Chapel Knight. His strange coloration, uncanny ability to live without a head mark him as an otherworldly being. It is more like Dullahan but is green with a giant ax. His physique is very tall, muscular as a giant, and his thick hair shows his maturity and determination. Unlike the film, he is rude but bold in his challenges to court. He referred to humans as mere children.

When Gawain meets the Green Knight in the Green Chapel, he is scared again. However, he was fun, intentionally, while tweaking Gawain’s psychology and mind by bringing out the final blow. Alternately, he mocks Gawain for his cowardice but at the same time praises him for his bravery. Despite the paradoxical nature of the Green Knight, he is more like an antagonist. Still, he separates as the hero of the protagonist. The poem ends with the poet letting him go without solving an ambiguity as well as a mystery.

The Reduction of Medieval Literature

For such times, The Green Knight shows a diversity of symbols and riches. With typical medieval literature, people began to interpret and recognize the signs. While the other character, talk about the literature, has meaning familiar to modern readers, it is not too difficult to see how, for example, the bandit symbolizes hopelessness or the fox symbolizes slander. People are not so easy to read the meaning. However, part of the difficulty in interpreting the literature is the historical background. Modern readers are certainly not familiar with the intellectual and cultural backgrounds of medieval readers. In understanding a symbol, scholars only have a spread of clues to help understand a reference. While many critics have succeeded in describing medieval literature as outright allegory, the literary poet Gawain is highly symbolic.

On the other hand, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight rejected a reduction to a simple formula. One of the features of the poem is the ambiguity which reflects one of the critical messages. It is about the invincibility of human arrogance, making humans imagine, control, and understand everything around them. The poet presents a flawed yet beautiful world. It is good and bad united into one and impossible that nature is separate. However, the setting of the poetry and the film also lie in Sir Gawain’s symbolic riches. The miniature representation of the world’s diversity becomes ambiguous in each symbol variation for the reader.

The Sound of Visual

Back to the film, The Green Knight is not literally about green. However, it is about yellow. Lowery uses a deep yellow color as the color of Gawain’s sash. The color paints a scene as Gawain’s sequence meets the Green Knight in the Green Chapel. With dark shades, the color symbolizes cowardice, constantly being Gawain’s main trait when playing the game. At the end of the film, the color of anxiety no longer exists after Gawain turns bold. Dialogue diction and rhyme choose to speak through symbols such as objects and colors. Therefore, it is a slow-paced film, having plenty of time to pick up the bullet points.

It is a character for the film. Lowery re-edited The Green Knight during lockdown mischievously. He sees more echoes of the color-coded fantasies of many arthouse films such as Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon and even Lars von Trier’s Antichrist when talking about the fox and nature as the devil’s church. The addition of a rich, dramatic score by Daniel Hart and Andrew Droz Palermo as cinematography adds to the intoxicating charm of the film. Uniquely, Lowery’s appeal entices in standing proudly as a masterpiece of poetry in its right.

The Conceptual Interpretation

The narrative elevation of The Green Knight is like a conceptual film that lacks production staff in terms of appearance. At the last minute, without dialogue, Lowery ordered the push efficiently. In addition, he poses a question about how Indian hero Dev Patel portrays traditional Anglo-centric revivalism in its two hours of mind wandering. With various criticisms, the audience praised Lowery for rethinking a legendary fantasy from medieval literary tales.

With a bit of praise, the film also asked many audiences to keep participating in a game full of symbols but at a slow pace. It is considering the theme without underlining ease of consumption. Audiences watch the film about the famous knight, with very little content and the traditional heroic ways of an ordinary human being. The audience also only heard a story of King Arthur from the point of view of a master storyteller at a banquet.


About the author

Salman Al Farisi is the owner of Calxylian and is an elitist who has enjoyed and studied various mediums. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in 2020 from the Haluoleo University, Indonesia, where he studied English Literature, Film Criticism, Cultural Studies, Literary Theory, and Literary Criticism. He lives in Kendari in his mom's basement, now unemployed and ghostwriter, life with his cats, and is looking for the future.


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