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

Gawain (Dev Patel) is a young man, the king’s nephew, who has not yet been awarded a knighthood. Gawain meets the onset of Christmas morning with a commoner Essel (Alicia Vikander) in a brothel. After Essel leaves for the church, Gawain arrives at his mother’s (Sarita Choudhry) castle. That evening, the King (Sean Harris) and the Queen (Kate Dickey) are hosting a banquet for the Knights of the Round Table, but Gawain’s mother says she won’t be attending the dinner herself. Gawain goes to the king’s feast alone, and at that moment his mother performs a magical ritual in the castle.

At dinner, the king invites his nephew to sit next to him and his queen, speaks graciously to Gawain and expresses regret that he had little to no contact with him before. And the king asks Gawain to tell a story about himself so that he can get to know him better. But what can Gawain tell, who has not yet had any important events in his life? What will he tell the king – stories from the brothel?

And the king and queen are hinting to the young man that it is time for him to accomplish some feat that will glorify him, like those very knights sitting at the Round Table.

At this moment, a mysterious Green Knight, whose face seems to be made of wood, enters the banquet hall on horseback. He invites the king and those assembled to play a Christmas game. Any knight can hit the Green Knight one time with his weapon. And then he will have the right to take the huge ax belonging to the Green Knight. However, after that, exactly one year later, this knight must find the Green Knight in the Green Chapel, where, in turn, he will receive a retaliatory blow from him.

Gawain decides that he has got a chance “cheaply” to perform a feat that everyone will talk about, and he will be honored with a knighthood. He accepts the challenge of the Green Knight, takes his ax and cuts off the knight’s head. However, the Green Knight does not die. He lifts his head from the floor, reminds Gawain of what awaits him in a year, and then with a satanic laugh leaves.

The year passes very quickly, and Gawain has to go on a long journey towards his destiny.

***

This film directed by David Lowery is based on a 14th-century chivalric poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by an unknown author. Well, more specifically, it is based on the modern Middle English to Modern English translations of this poem by John R R Tolkien (Lowry is a big fan of both Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings books and the film series), as well as Simon Armitage and John Gardner.

The poem belongs to the cycles of works about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. In the original work, Gawain is a knight, and quite famous, and the Green Knight with his most interesting offer was sent by the Morgan fairy, who in the original is Gawain’s aunt. The young man cuts off the Green Knight’s head, which does not make a noticeable impression on the latter, after which the Green Knight leaves with his head under his arm, recalling that in a year he is waiting for a return visit.

A year later, Gawain goes in search of the Green Chapel, and on the way, of course, a wide variety of adventures and battles await him – either with dragons, or with wolves, or even the devil knows what.

In the end, Gawain came across the castle of Lord Bertilak, who lived in this luxurious home with his wife. The lord offered Gawain hospitality, but he also offered to play a game. The lord will hunt for three days, and Gawain will rest in the castle. At the end of the day, the lord will give Gawain what he got from the hunt, and Gawain will give what he gets in the castle.

And Gawain had something to get: Lady Bertilak unequivocally harassed the young man, but he was a straight flint and only plucked a kiss, which at the end of the day Gawain honestly returned to the lord. On the third day, Lady Bertilak, in addition to the already familiar kiss, gave the knight a magical green belt that can protect the owner from any danger. And so Gawain did not return the belt to Bertilak, reasoning that he himself certainly needed the belt more.

Gawain’s courage in the poem is repeatedly subjected to various temptations: either the voice of reason whispers to him that it might be better to return home than go to certain death, or the knight’s guide persuades him to abandon this dangerous enterprise and go to hell.

Nevertheless, Gawain comes to the Green Knight, mentally preparing for a specific decapitation, and the young man understands that he himself will not have the same trick as the Green Knight, but honor, as you understand, is more expensive.

As a result, it turns out that the Green Knight is the cheerful Lord Bertilak, who, together with his wife, at the request of Fairy Morgana, started this curious psychological experiment. They did not chop Gawain’s head, but for his tricks with the green belt, Bertilak leaves a small scar on Gawain’s neck.

After that, Gawain returns to Camelot with a green belt tied around his waist as a reminder of an unfulfilled promise, and when he arrived in Camelot, the local knights, seeing the belt, thought that it was now very fashionable in Europe, and they also put on such belts.

This is such an instructive medieval story.

Of course, they have already tried to film it. Back in 1973, director Stephen Wicks made a black-and-white film “Gawain and the Green Knight” – here is a poster for this film.

Moreover, the story of Gawain and the Green Knight so captured the mind of this director that he filmed it again in 1984, making the film “Sword of the Valiant: The Legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”, moreover, the Green Knight, who incited the knights to recklessness , Sean Connery played there, who had just quit Bond, and he needed a change of image.

Well, in 2020, the third film adaptation was released, which was directed by the American indie director David Lowry at A24 Studio, which is one of the main suppliers of independent films to the big screens.

But, before we talk about the picture of David Lowry, I must say that in modern cinema with productions based on the epic about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, things are more than modest. Quite sucks “King Arthur” by Antoine Fuqua in 2004, where they caught up with a completely fierce scenario blizzard, calling it a “triumph of realism”, and where it is not clear why Keira Knightley, whose Guinevere was a dark blue savage woman in a badgesem leather outfit – from such a twist of the plot , gentlemen, Bagel and I ourselves went nuts.

And even Guy Ritchie, this genre also, in general, was not given, because if “King Arthur’s Sword”, unlike Fukua’s creation, can be viewed as some kind of funny cinematic hooliganism, then these London gopniks speaking modern cockneys had about the same attitude as the navy blue Guinevere in the leather outfit from the 2004 movie.

So what happened to David Lowry? And he came up with something completely different. Strictly speaking, of course, this is not a film adaptation of the poem, these are such fantasy directorial reminiscences, inspired both by the poem itself and by various cinematic works, to which Lowry makes various references from time to time.

And precisely for the reason that this is not quite a screen version of the poem, only the names of Gawain and the Green Knight are preserved here, and you will not hear the names of Arthur, Guinevere, Morgana, Bertilak and the name of the city of Camelot here, these heroes are nameless, like the city where the king rules. The fact that the Green Knight is Bertilak will also remain unknown, a completely different legend about Saint Winifred, who was cut off her head, will be introduced into the plot, and Gawain will have a fox companion (having references to both the famous French fox Renard and the speaker, albeit a slightly rotten little fox from Trier’s Antichrist), plus he’ll have to meet giantesses crossing the valley – in general, there will be a lot of things.

But most importantly, David Lowery changed the most important character, Gawain. In this film, he is not a knight at all, but something like “a young man contemplating life”. Yes, and he is no longer a young man, we note, at his thirty years, which in those harsh times was already somehow even closer to old age.

Gawain was not noted for any exploits, he did not become a knight, he leads an idle life: he drinks more and more and fucks in a brothel. Yes, and he accepted the challenge of the Green Knight rather “for a fool”: he decided that he would blow the Green head off, so that he would not have to fulfill the requirement to meet in a year later.

He had to go on a dangerous journey, but even there he somehow did not show himself well done at all, rather the opposite. First, he falls into the hands of forest robbers and loses almost everything, then he tries to profit by helping the ghost, then he does not fulfill the contract with the lord, and finally he tries to avoid fulfilling the Green Knight’s condition, which is fraught with the most terrible thing – the loss of knightly honor.

But, by the way, the director here just conveys the idea that the protagonist still fulfills the condition through overcoming his character traits, and traits that are not very pretty.

However, here the whole film is like this: it is not easy, multi-layered, it has many various explicit and implicit references and allusions, only they are not the same as in the poem, which also contains many layers that have been discussed a lot, and continue to be discussed.

Dev Patel, in my opinion, very well suited the role of the Gawain that the director shows in his version. The actor has matured greatly since the days of Slumdog Millionaire, he can already be mistaken for a knight, while the guilty look and somewhat suffering look of the actor clearly correlate with the character’s character. I liked him in this role, and the moaning of some viewers about the fact that this is an Indian playing a Celtic knight (plus a British actress with Indian roots plays his mother, who in this case is Morgan the Fairy) – I consider them untenable, because anyway, you guys won’t find a real Celt for the role of Gawain, and since the actor played well, then what the hell difference does it make, what is his origin? Moreover, even in those days, the circulation of blood and nationalities, thanks to all sorts of wars and other movements, was quite large,

I really liked Alicia Vikander, who played both Essel, Gawain’s girlfriend, and the lady, the wife of the lord, who is trying to seduce a young man in the castle. What was the director’s message at the same time (one actress plays clearly different characters) is not very clear, but it was played well, so let’s not find fault. In addition, in both cases, the theme of sex is clearly heard, and this, you know, brings them together very well.

Of the acting work, I also really liked Barry Keoghan, who played a marauder, who at the same time is the leader of a gang of forest robbers, as well as the Australian Joel Edgerton, who perfectly played the lord who received Gawain in his castle.

By the way, I will answer one more claim, which is often encountered, concerning the now fashionable theme of “blueness” in the picture: it concerns the fact that Gawain returns the kiss received from the lady to the lord after his hunt. So, despite the fact that in those days nothing bad was seen in homosexual relationships – for example, the same knight who devoted himself to a beautiful lady, during his wanderings, could easily satisfy sexual passion with his squire (“You need to marry, sir knight, to marry, ”the squire kept saying),“ everything was completely different with the kisses of the knights: the knights kissed each other exclusively as a sign of friendship and military fraternity, and there was no sexual aspirations in this, as the tabloids of those times say.

But let’s come to the main thing – to the visual embodiment of this film. And it’s really outstanding. The director took advantage of the plot of the old poem in order to visualize various episodes of this story in an amazingly cool way. The costumes, the play with light and shadow, the visuals, the work of the costume designers, the camera work (Andrew Droz Palermo), the shifting landscapes, the shifting states of Gawain’s mind – it’s really well done, I’m really impressed.

It’s clear that David Lowry staged this film mainly to embody the images that he imagined, but his interpretation of this story, and the acting work, and Daniel Hart’s soundtrack are all downright cool. I do not agree with the opinion that the picture is drawn out and that part of the wanderings of Gawain are shown somewhat tediously, nothing like that. This is precisely the wanderings, he travels for a long time in search of the Green Chapel, and this should be somewhat monotonous, like the journey itself. Especially since it was filmed so effectively.

The critics, as I understand it, liked the picture: it is being discussed very actively, and this is a clear indicator that the picture turned out to be at least interesting and ambiguous. Fans of the Arthurian epic are mostly indignant because Lowry, the scoundrel, dared to change the classics. (On the contrary, I liked the fact that he showed his own vision of this story.)

For those viewers who have no idea what King Arthur is and the corresponding times, and who expect an ordinary adventure thriller from the picture, and preferably in a comic direction, there will certainly be a complete disappointment: a millionaire from the slums is wandering somewhere, why is he wandering, why – it is not clear, and it all ends with some kind of nonsense, where nothing was really explained. Again, they filmed some kind of bullshit, such a viewer will say, and from his point of view, of course, he will be absolutely right.

But Bublik and I really liked it, which, to be honest, we didn’t really expect. The author’s approach to the old poem, and really the author’s, and not from the series “now I’ll show you all how non-standard I am”, a lot of historical, cinephile and other references (there you can deal with this film for a long time, it is very imaginative), well played , and most importantly – absolutely wonderfully done visually, that’s downright impressive. Plus the music, plus the work of the costume designers, plus the way it’s all neatly divided into actually different novels, each of which is good in its own way.

And thanks for the open ending. We also do not like it when everything is chewed up as much as possible and put into the viewer’s mouth in the expectation that the viewer is stupid and does not like being forced to think. And we respect directors who make the audience think: in the end, sometimes you need to think so that the brain does not stagnate, although we understand that at the present time it is better not to make such seditious statements.

The Legend of the Green Knight /
The Green Knight movie review

Producer: David Lowry

Cast: Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sarita Chowdhry, Sean Harris, Kate Dickey, Ralph Ineson, Barry Keoghan, Erin Kellyman, Anais Rizzo

Adventure fantasy, Ireland-Canada-USA-Great Britain,
2020,
130 min.

 

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