The Green Knight: A Darkly Ambiguous Take on an Old Myth

As theaters have slowly re-opened in 2021, The Green Knight has stood out as one of the anticipated movies of the summer. Based on the anonymous 14th Century poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the movie promises a unique blend of styles. In addition, The Green Knight boasts an impressive collection of talent behind and in front of the camera. With its blend of medieval setting, horror, and fantasy, The Green Knight most readily conjures up memories of John Boorman’s Excalibur. And like most A24 movies, David Lowery’s feature has divided critics and audiences.


On Christmas morning, a tall emerald-skinned stranger, The Green Knight, enters King Arthur’s court with a challenge. If any knight can strike a blow against him, they win possession of his prized green axe. But the winner must journey to the Green Chapel exactly one year to the day to receive an equal blow. Eager to prove his worth, Sir Gawain – King Arthur’s nephew – beheads the Green Knight. However, the strange knight merely rises, collects his head, and reminds Gawain of his bargain. One year later, Sir Gawain rides to the Green Chapel facing numerous obstacles in his quest to fulfil his promise.

The Green Knight Offers a Winding, Scenic Journey Into Fantasy and Horror

From its opening scene where a crown floats over Sir Gawain before both it and the knight burst into flames, writer and director David Lowery sets the tone that will define The Green Knight. As its promotional materials suggested, Lowery effortlessly blends horror and fantasy elements amidst its medieval romance source material. However, Lowery’s pacing is deliberately methodical and winding. It’s not so much slow-burn as it is more dreamlike in its structure. That is, segues from one scene to another often offer little context. Other scenes stretch curiously stretch themselves. In addition, Lowery occasionally includes subtle symbolism as well as an extended glance into a hypothetical future. As a result of these storytelling approaches, The Green Knight becomes a surreal viewing experience.

… (Cinematographer) Palermo beautifully films each and every scene with an incredible amount of detail.

Both Lowery’s visuals and Andrew Droz Palermo’s stunning cinematography add to The Green Knight’s dreamlike atmosphere. Simply put, Palermo beautifully films each and every scene with an incredible amount of detail. Expansive and richly textured, you’ll often think you are looking into a moving painting. As Sir Gawain faces his obstacles along the journey, Lowery weaves in giants, ghosts, and scorched battlefields with a vividness that makes the movie feel like a myth come to life. If the movie’s storytelling is slow and ambiguous, Lowery ensures there’s always something to look at on screen.

Writer and Director David Lowery Finds

What message Lowery intends to deliver is very much open to interpretation. As mentioned above, The Green Knight uses symbolism and foreshadowing to weave an ambiguous narrative. However, one thing that is certain is that Lowery isn’t interested in traditional myth-making. Instead, Lowery unravels what we know about Arthurian legend and its heroes with a seriously flawed Sir Gawain. Initially eager to prove his worth, Sir Gawain reluctantly trudges forward to hold up his end of the bargain for the sake of honor. As the story turns to each obstacle, Lowery reminds us of Gawain’s fallibility, including an extended glance at a ‘what if’ future.

Instead, Lowery unravels what we know about Arthurian legend and its heroes with a seriously flawed Sir Gawain.

Amongst a talented cast, Dev Patel impressively shoulders the challenge of tackling Sir Gawain with a layered performance. Throughout The Green Knight, Patel is alternately ambitious, pathetic, and sometimes resolute. Patel completely dives into the character, erasing any memories you might have of past roles. With a supporting cast that includes Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sarita Choudhury, and Barry Keoghan, it’s easy for audiences to immerse themselves in the story. Each actor imbues these very familiar character with wholly unique takes.

The Green Knight a Challenging, Gorgeous, and Haunting Experience

Visually stunning, narratively challenging – The Green Knight is a haunting viewing experience. Less accessible than Ari Aster’s (Hereditary, Midsommar) A24 work, The Green Knight won’t appeal to wide audiences. While its trailers promised a mix of horror and fantasy (which the movies delivers on), Lowery’s two-hour-plus journey is more of a meditative deconstruction of myths, masculinity, and honor. The movie’s deliberate pacing alongside its dreamlike approach to storytelling is more arthouse niche than mainstream product.


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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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