“David Lowery’s The Green Knight is a visual masterpiece that will make you fall in love with the medieval aesthetic (and Dev Patel)”
Immediately after watching David Lowery’s The Green Knight, I left the theater incredibly frustrated with the film while simultaneously awestruck at its beauty. I think this film requires multiple viewings in order to truly appreciate its attention to detail and exquisite cinematography. Unfortunately, I have only had the chance to see it once, so keep that in mind while reading this review (I do plan to see it again soon).
I was introduced to the 14th century poem that this film is based on, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, in a college comparative literature class and like many others before me, I was struck by its haunting story and thematic complexity. The poem, written by an anonymous author, is a perfect example of a chivalric romance complete with a hero’s journey and a beheading game. It is so rich with language and imagery that readers have been discussing it for centuries.
I was initially upset with the film because I hoped it would be more faithful to the poem. Lowery’s adaptation diverges from the narrative of the poem in ways I didn’t quite understand. I also felt he left out important details from the poem that made the film confusing to audiences who did not know the story. I definitely recommend reading a translation of the poem before watching the film; you can find Tolkien’s famous translation here.
After much reflection, I now see the film was a lot truer to the poem than I previously thought. Though Lowery took some creative liberties with the plot, he set up the film in cinematic stanzas that evoke the structure of the poem. He also elaborates on one of the core themes of the poem: what does it take to be a knight and what does it really mean, in the grand scheme of history, to be a legend?
Setting my issues with the plot aside, I was absolutely mesmerized by the cinematography. Lowery, along with his cinematographer Andrew Palermo, created a visually stunning film, which is reason alone to go see it. The precision of the visuals demonstrate that Lowery knew exactly what he was doing while directing this film. From the costumes, to the sets, to the breathtaking landscapes, this film takes you on a hero’s journey, right alongside Gawain.
Additionally, Lowery really capitalized on the impressive natural landscapes in a way I haven’t seen in a film since Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. For the majority of the film, the landscape was the set. According to ScreenRant, the film was shot entirely in Ireland; you can find the list of locations here.
Leading the film was Dev Patel in one of the best performances of his career. Patel is always very earnest on screen, which came through in his portrayal of Gawain. Dev Patel is a great example of a modern leading man, yet, in this film he shows he can bring his modern sensibilities into a medieval setting. His performance was refreshingly different from past actors who have portrayed this famous Arthurian knight. Patel captures the resilient spirit of a young, ambitious knight, while also showing Gawain’s lack of confidence and direction. The entire time, Patel reveals to the audience that Gawain is constantly questioning the purpose of his quest and wondering to what extent is he willing to go simply to earn honor amongst the knights?
My only other issue with this film was that at times it felt it was trying too hard to fit the A24 brand in ways that didn’t feel appropriate for the film. Though I love that indie films are finding a mainstream audience because of A24, there is also now an A24 style that I expect going into every film released by the studio.Like many other films from the studio, this film was complete with paganism, shocking sexual scenes, mushrooms, witches and a slightly confusing plot passed off as pseudo intellectual.
I do still have very mixed feelings about The Green Knight, but I think it is definitely worth a watch and a re-watch. This is the kind of film that will slowly simmer in your mind, and you will keep returning to its memorable images and complex themes. This film will truly transport you to what feels like a different time and different dimension for the two hours you are watching.
Overall rating: 7/10
Nicole Bates is a contributor to AML Creative. You can find her socials below.
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