The Green Knight Explained: What’s Up With the Ending?

“The Legend of the Green Knight” / The Green Knight

Genre fantasy
Directed by David Lowry
Cast Dev Patel (Gawain), Alicia Vikander (Essel), Joel Edgerton (Lord), Sarita Chowdhury (Mother), Sean Harris (King), Kate Dickey (Queen), Barry Keoghan (Scavenger), Ralph Ineson (Green Knight) and etc.
Sailor Bear Studios, BRON Studios, A24
Release year 2021
Site IMDb

In the film “The Legend of the Green Knight” there will be no battles in armor, valiant deeds, heroic campaigns and noble declarations of love. The picture tells about a young man who idly lived his days, so other, darker and almost inexplicable wanderings fell to his lot.

American director-screenwriter David Lowry decided to film a difficult material, based on the poem “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”, which appeared in the XIV century.

The poem does not have an author (he remains unknown), there is no unambiguous interpretation either – literary critics saw in it a reflection of territorial conflicts, religious symbols, and even environmental prophecies related to nature. Despite the ambiguity of the text, the poem from the Middle Ages became the national treasure of England (by the way, John R. R. Tolkien himself translated it from Middle English into modern English). More modern Britons have managed to turn a poem into a performance and even transform a complex text into a film (this is the 1984 film Sword Of The Valiant with Sean Connery in one of the main roles).

However, no one has been able to rethink the classic work from the point of view of a surreal dark fairy tale, as David Lowry did.


The events of the film take place in Camelot during Christmas. King Arthur arranges a festive feast, where his nephew Gawain comes – a young man who prefers brothels and wine, rather than valiant knighthood. At the height of the holiday, a certain Green Knight appears in the royal castle, resembling a revived mythical creature. An uninvited guest offers fun: let one of the daredevils strike him, after which the brave man will gain glory. Gawain steps forward and swings his sword fatally. Now Gawain, who unwittingly made a bet, is obliged to find a mysterious stranger in order to take a retaliatory blow from him.

Perhaps here the script still adheres to the original, but then the film turns into a beautiful phantasmagoria that moves along the oppressive, but at the same time incredibly picturesque landscapes wrapped in fog. David Lowry allows himself to quote the original, interpreting it in his own way and adding new characters to it. This is how a vulture man, a beautiful lady with a terrible past, four-legged companions and doubles of familiar people appear in the film.


To understand what this crazy campaign will mean for Gawain, David Lowry arranges for him a conversation with King Arthur at the beginning of the film. It turns out that the nephew simply has nothing to tell his uncle, in his life there is neither a goal nor adventures that could cheer up the interlocutor. It is absolutely empty, so the journey towards the deadly duel is what a young man needs for the formation of character. And the viewer in order to try to guess what the fate of the hero will be and, possibly, make a mistake.

There are no clear answers to Gawain’s mission. As in the images laid down in the film by David Lowry, it is unlikely that they will be able to unravel all of them, but it is still worth a try. Don’t let the appearance of the characters and the inexplicable essence of random people you meet scare you. Thanks to them, an old poem turns into a special, in its own way elegant and slightly frightening film story.

The picture is full of amazing details that make their plot accents (be it the shape of the crown or the bright cape of the protagonist, which stands out against the backdrop of nature). Also, the hues of certain scenes play a role, which seem to suggest the direction of the story (sometimes in the frame the face of a minor character is illuminated by a green light, at another moment the water turns blood red, and closer to the denouement, the hero makes an important decision, looking ahead through the yellow smog).


Even if the film’s description seems rather absurd, it’s still worth watching for its cinematography by Andrew Droz Palermo (previously working with director David Lowery on the mystery drama A Ghost Story, another very wondrous but extremely touching film). Palermo finds beautiful angles (some moments you want to pause to consider) that give the story a mythological fabulousness.

What can I say, The Legend of the Green Knight is far from a typical movie about the path of a warrior. The film does not attempt to replicate the exploits of the Knights of the Round Table (although they appear in one of the scenes), the main role is played by the British actor of Indian origin Dev Patel (and he does a great job), and the visual component sometimes prevails over the plot. But all this is part of a big adventure, which does not pretend to be a realistic perception.

Pros: surreal-gloomy atmosphere; camera work; details and light; interesting director’s interpretation Cons: not all images lend themselves to interpretation and remain a mystery Conclusion:

beautiful phantasmagoric fantasy created by an independent director according to his own rules.

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