David Lowery is proving more and more like a director who you simply can’t handle. With its allegorical medieval fairy tale THE GREEN KNIGHT, which is more of a treatise on the concept of masculinity and honor, he takes this to the extreme. We reveal more about this in our review.
OT: The Green Knight (IE/CAN/USA/UK 2021)
We find ourselves at the court of the legendary King Arthur (Sean Harris). It is winter. The young Sir Gawain (Dev Patel), nephew of King Arthur, makes his way to Camelot Castle on Christmas Eve to take part in the celebrations. But this comes to an abrupt end when a threatening figure suddenly enters the throne room on horseback. A gigantic Green Knight (Ralph Ineson) first pays polite respects to the king before suggesting a scary game: whoever of his knights muster up the courage can strike him on the spot. The only condition: if he survives, the brave fighter must appear in the Green Chapel exactly one year later, where the Green Knight can return the blow. Sir Gawain seizes the opportunity and accepts the challenge with easy courage. A mistake…
And it happened again. This realization probably hit fans of the indie production company A24 much less hard than it will soon hit a much more unsuspecting audience. Anyone who has dealt intensively with the US company in recent years is aware that the New York City-based company is repeatedly mentioned in connection with misleading trailers. “It Comes at Night”, “Hereditary”, “The Witch” – to name just a few – failed many viewers because, among other things, they were promoted as “The Most Shocking Film of the Year”; An audience used to “The Conjuring” would have been very surprised at what the press people meant by “shocking” with a slow-burn horror drama like “The Witch”. The result: critics’ voices shouting to the sky, a miserable Metascore (a representative survey system used in the USA in which cinemagoers are asked to give a rating after the performance). David Lowery’s heroic saga “The Green Knight” is in the same vein. One of the first scenes of the first trailer shows the main character Gawain sitting on a golden throne, shortly before his head bursts into flames to a striking sound effect. This scene is also there in the finished film – as is that of a corpse rotting in fast motion or a scary children’s puppet show that shows even the youngest children how a decapitation actually works. But apart from these three motifs, there are hardly any other such “horror scenes” in “The Green Knight” (at this point we recommend watching the second, long trailer, which reflects the tonality of the film much better). Perhaps once again fatal, because genre fans in particular were eagerly awaiting the start of the film – and now unexpectedly have to contend with an intensive treatise on the concept of masculinity and honor, like protagonist Gerwain with his inevitable fate.
Sir Gawan (Dev Patel) longs for his own heroic story.
The Arthurian epic has been made into films several times in the last few decades. From the family-friendly animated adventure (“The Witch and the Wizard”) to the big-budget actioner (“King Arthur”) to the fantasy family film (“If You Were King”), the filmmakers have already jumped through every genre imaginable. Nevertheless, director David Lowery succeeds (“A crook and a gentleman”), with its interpretation of the “Story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” to venture into a directorial field for which we cannot easily think of comparisons with other films. “The Green Knight” is only vaguely reminiscent of other works in fragments. For example, the equally cool and hypnotic, and always completely outstanding, camera work by Andrew Droz Palermo (who also filmed Lowery’s “A Ghost Story”) presents itself with a visuality that is particularly familiar from Lars von Trier films . A damn scary fox included. Almost every picture in “The Green Knight” could be hung on the wall as a still life. In some panoramas you really want to get lost. Even if you don’t like the content of the film, you won’t be able to get enough of the spectacular photography, which impresses with its simplicity; for example, when you see Sir Gawain and his noble steed walking from the bottom of the picture to the top of the picture in a sequence lasting several minutes, while gray-on-gray desolation, shrouded in fog, dominates around them. At other times, there are gruesome, macabre details like the puppet theater mentioned above, which lulls us into safety with seemingly harmless puppet characters before one cuts off the other’s head and bright red felt material represents the resulting gush of blood. Simple but highly effective! It’s no surprise that much larger elements, such as some massively animated CGI giants, are almost left behind. But in “The Green Knight” the fascination lies more in the details than in the obvious.
“Almost every picture in ‘The Green Knight’ could be hung on the wall as a still life. In some panoramas you really want to get lost. Even if you don’t like the content of the film, you won’t be able to get enough of the spectacular photography.”
Now the intoxicating visuals of “The Green Knight” are one thing. But David Lowery doesn’t just see his story as a good-looking, associative picture book, as Terrence Malick, for example, often did recently. No, Lowery wants to tell a story presented chronologically, the staging of which will offend some film fans. For as captivatingly beautiful as a scene like the above-mentioned ride from the bottom of the camera to the top of the frame may be, it is capable of taxing the audience’s patience; A moment like this can sometimes last for several minutes without any significant change in what you are seeing. David Lowery hasn’t lost his reputation as the sole slow burner thanks to his recently wildly mixed-up CV in terms of genre and staging; But for those who found his “A Ghost Story” just a bit too reserved, too tough, too slow, the 125-minute film can become a strenuous affair. Above all because the narrative style, which is unwieldy due to its allegorical approach, does not choose a specific moment to actively bring the audience on board. Lowery completely refuses to cater to the usual viewing habits of his viewers, but instead assumes that each of them finds his/her own access to the story. Anyone who does this has gained a lot – and is still constantly faced with major interpretive challenges, all of which we have not yet understood.
What is the casting of the “Lady” (Alicia Vikander) all about?
For example, we cannot explain why Alicia Vikander is finally back on the screen after her maternity leave (“Tomb Raider”) played a dual role in “The Green Knight”. We get to know her as a short-haired maid and Gawain’s lover Essel, until in the second half of the film she finally embodies the figure of the noblewoman known only as “The Lady”, whose husband (Joel Edgerton) grants Gawain refuge in her castle on his fateful journey. Are these two completely different characters supposed to be a distorted reflection of each other? Are they perhaps even one and the same person? Do any of them possibly exist only in Gawain’s perception? Or is David Lowery trying to fool his audience using this casting coup alone? “The Green Knight” makes each of these approaches possible. Different interpretations can be read into pretty much every character that Gawain meets on his ride. This is also why the film gains more and more of its fascinating edges and edges. The main topic, which is also dealt with more under the surface here, appears almost “obvious” in comparison. At first glance, “The Green Knight” tells of an individual fate exaggerated with fantasy motifs. On the other hand, this also brings up thousands of findings that are remarkably relevant these days. Above all, the questioning of concepts such as honor, heroism and, as a result, masculinity leaves an impression. Starting with the fact that Gawain’s supposed heroic deed is revealed to be a great stupidity just a few seconds later, ending with the character development of the protagonist, which is contrary to comparable material, and who does not become more and more courageous as the story progresses, but rather more and more cowardly and fearful. “The Green Knight” is the Alternative to a hero saga.
“At first glance, ‘The Green Knight’ tells of an individual fate exaggerated with fantasy motifs. On the other hand, this also brings up thousands of findings that are remarkably relevant these days.”
And the extremely reduced tempo proves to be just right for such a person. With the step that Gawain’s horse takes in front of the others, the realization of his inevitable fate tightens more and more. It would have been easy to tell Gawain’s ride to death in half the running time. Dev Patel would probably be seen here in one of his best roles (“David Copperfield – Once Rich and Back”) the inner decay, the gradual crushing of his ideals, the attrition and fear were just as convincing. However, you can actually feel your increasing fear of death firsthand. Sometimes you hardly have any eyes for the unbridled beauty of this work, but are very close to Gawain. Despite its opulence, “The Green Knight” is above all a very intimate film.
Conclusion: David Lowery’s allegorical medieval saga “The Green Knight” is not just an illustration of how Lars von Trier would have illustrated a film like “King Arthur.” It is also a bitingly smug reckoning with the concepts of honor and masculinity. Not in the guise of a dry educational film, but as a fantasy spectacle enriched with motifs from horror cinema, which Dev Patel helps to create immense sadness.
“The Green Knight” can be seen in USA cinemas from July 29, 2021.