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The Green Knight

“Why greatness? Why is goodness not enough?”

Happy New Year, brave knights and ladies. Shall I tell you about one of the best movies I saw in the 21st year of this 21st century?

I meant to review The Green Knight back when I originally saw it, but did not get the job done. Now another Christmas and New Year has passed, and I've had the chance to reexperience the film again. So here goes.

Inspired by a story from the Arthurian legends, The Green Knight follows Gawain, a rakish young man living in Camelot. He happens to be nephew to King Arthur himself. When given a seat of honor beside the king and queen on Christmas day, he laments to admit that he has no tale of his own to tell. But it’s on this day that a tale finds him. A mysterious and mythic figure known as the Green Knight enters, wielding a giant battle-axe and interrupting the royal festivities to engage one of Arthur’s knights in “a friendly Christmas game.”

As a test of courage, he asks that a knight attempt to strike a blow against him, with the catch that whatever blow is struck be returned in kind by the Green Knight next Christmas. Eager to prove himself, Gawain steps forward to meet this challenge. Unfortunately, he cuts off the Green Knight’s head. That’s no big deal for the Green Knight, but it leaves Gawain in a precarious situation. In one year, he has to seek out the Green Knight and receive an equal blow from him in return.

Can Gawain keep his word? Is he an honorable and virtuous man? Does he have what it takes to be a knight?

That’s what this story is about, far more than the action and spectacle one might commonly expect from this particular realm of fantasy. Not about brave acts, but the concept of bravery itself. It is also what some have described as a meditation on death.

Gawain embarks on his journey because that’s what honor dictates, but he obviously does not want to lose his head over some bizarre tree man's game. He aspires to be a knight of the round table, but he’s just a man, selfish and afraid.

It’s not an easy road he journeys down, especially as it takes place in a mystical dark age. On top of this, few things go right for Gawain on his quest. He often fails to act heroic, and is somewhat clumsy even when he does. A lot of the time he plays the part of the viewer, not quite knowing what is going on. Justifiably so. This story is steeped in symbolism and imagery that can be hard to penetrate.

It's certainly a movie that's open to interpretation, with it depending on the viewer how shallow or deep it really is. I found it captivating in a way few movies in this genre have been, especially contemporary fantasy films, but others might just find it needlessly boring or confusing.

Along with its more thoughtful approach, the movie is very much a slow-burn. If you’re one to get sleepy when a movie has long periods of no dialogue and somber music, this may not be for you. For my part, I am always happy to a see movie like this in today’s age. It was made on a 15 million dollar budget and is one of the coolest looking recent movies I’ve seen; even more impressive when you consider how much some of these interchangeable franchise blockbusters cost.

Modern audiences are trained to dive into tangled mythologies with all these rival IPs and experimental cinematic universes, they get to know all the different characters and scenarios and build consensus on all of it. Maybe it was refreshing to see a film that immerses itself in one of the oldest mythologies in the world and refuses to pander or hold the viewer's hand as we move headlong through it. I'm not sure what (if any) consensus there will be on The Green Knight, but I do know that I dig it.

Heads and axes:

* I honestly don’t think I’ve seen Dev Patel in another movie since Slumdog Millionaire back in 2008, though I know he’s been in plenty since then. This was a nice reminder, for me, that dude is a solid actor and has a real screen presence. There are other great actors in it: Joel Edgerton, Barry Keoghan, a powerful dual performance from Alicia Vikander, and Ralph Ineson as the Green Knight, of course. But for the most part, it's Patel who holds our focus as he struggles along his weird path.

* I still need to watch David Lowery’s previous movie A Ghost Story, but I have seen Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and remember liking it. Based on that and this movie here, he seems to have a very soft, melodic style that greatly enhances the atmosphere of his movies.

* The CGI on Gawain’s fox companion is not the best, but it’s not focused on that much, so I think it’s a negligible flaw. The rest of the movie is stunning to look at, though. Full of locations that are gorgeous even when drab and picturesque shots that have the look of fantastical Renaissance paintings with a dreamlike quality.

* One thing I liked about The Green Knight was its “show, don’t tell” style. Though the story is some rendition of an Arthurian legend, featuring several of the legendary characters therein, it doesn’t get particularly deep into any of that lore. At least, not in an obvious way. Arthur and Guinivere are simply the King and the Queen, while figures like Merlin and Morgana appear but have no dialogue and little involvement in the plot.


Woman in brothel: “You a knight yet?”
Gawain: “Not yet.”
Woman: “Better hurry up!”
Gawain: “I’ve got time, I’ve got lots of time.”

The Green Knight: “One year hence.”

King Arthur: “Is it wrong to want greatness for you?”

Essel: “Are you really going to go?”
Gawain: “Should I?”
Essel: “I like your head where it is.”

Scavenger: “Have you used that axe in many battles?”
Gawain: “Here and there.”
Scavenger: “Here?”
Gawain: “… Only there.”

The Lady: "But why green? Why not blue or red?"
Gawain: "Because he is not of this earth."
The Lady: "But green is the color of the earth, of living things, of life."
Gawain: "And of rot."
The Lady: “Yes. Yes. We deck our halls with it and dye our linens. But should it come creeping up the cobbles, we scrub it out, fast as we can. When it blooms beneath our skin, we bleed it out. And when we, together all, find that our reach has exceeded our grasp, we cut it down, we stamp it out, we spread ourselves atop it and smother it beneath our bellies, but it comes back. It does not dally, nor does it wait to plot or conspire. Pull it out by the roots one day and then the next, there it is, creeping in around the edges. Whilst we’re off looking for red, in comes green. Red is the color of lust, but green is what lust leaves behind, in heart, in womb. Green is what is left when ardor fades, when passion dies, when we die, too.”

Hope you all had a Merry Christmas, and wish you a Happy New Year. Five out of five severed heads from A24.


  1. I love this movie, and its surreal vibe. I feel like Dark Fantasy,that genre that is halfway between traditional Fantasy and Horror, is a genre that's underutilized these days.

  2. Logan, I think you and I chatted in the comments to a Best Of last year (that is, 2022) about this movie. It's so on-message that it took you a year to review it, and that you did so on January 1st. You're basically Gawain!

    I love this film, and I think it is officially the most medieval film I've ever seen in terms of accurately picking up the mood of not only the source text (SGGK) but also the Celtic, Christian, Anglo-Saxon, and classical influences that informed this and similar works.

    I really need to see this again. I hadn't known of Barry Keoghan when watching this, but I just saw Saltburn, so now I need to rewatch this movie to see what he does here.

    1. Well, two years, but close enough...

      I don't remember discussing it, but I'm glad we're in agreement on it being a pretty great movie. Hope it will get more appreciation as time goes on.

      And this is the second thing I saw Keoghan in after Dunkirk. He's only in it briefly, but he does a good job. Will have to get around to watching Saltburn soon.


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