The Green Knight (2021)

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

The Green Knight is a peculiar and surreal tale, a slow-moving epic story about one man's inability to understand that he owes anyone else for the pleasures he has taken from the world. The original story has Gawain as a hero, but this one makes him a self-absorbed man who must, through his journey to face an almost certain death, find his courage so that he can take his place among the legends of the round table.

It's Christmas morning. Gawain (Dev Patel) awakens in a brothel, as usual hung-over, and stumbles to the feast of King Arthur (Sean Harris), his uncle, but the merriments are intruded upon by a mysterious Green Knight. The enormous thing offers one man a game in the spirit of the season -- that whatever blow gets dealt to him, he will return in kind in twelve months, but in the meantime, the knight will benefit from increased fortunes. It matters not, he says, if it is a mere scratch... and lowers his head, an open invitation for one to lop off his head. The ambitious and foolish Gawain, eager for praise and admiration, strikes off his head, not realizing what he has done -- that in twelve months, he must find the Green Knight and offer his own neck in return.

The year passes. Gawain continues to refuse to wed the woman who has his heart (Alicia Vikander), though she yearns to be a Lady and carry his children. He does not understand why he should give her anything in exchange for the pleasure they find in each other. Then, Arthur calls him to Camelot and bids him a safe journey, whereupon Gawain realizes it was not a mere Christmas game after all, not something to forget... but a binding contract. He must offer his life to the Green Knight. On his travels, he shows foolishness, cowardice, and yields to many temptations, but also learns compassion and courage, to stand among his peers as a valiant knight. But he does not know what awaits him in the green chapel, whether his head will remain detached or by some magic, be restored to his shoulders. And he's scared to find out.

I haven't read the legend upon which this is based, but I do know the filmmaker changed some things -- namely, to make Gawain less noble and more "relatable." Unfortunately for me, he was less relatable than he was unlikable. I did not like any of his decisions, his self-centeredness, or his incomprehensible foolishness (he is completely unaware, at all times, of the dangers that surround him). I also thought one plot twist was coming that never did -- I found out later that it had been part of the original story, but the director left it out, which leaves a certain stint at the castle feeling a bit hollow. There's no explanations for anything and the story is convoluted in the second half, with a twist at the end that brings it into perspective -- but it gets dense and difficult to follow for at least half an hour. The acting is great, and the visuals are second to none. The costumes are gorgeous, and few movies look better on screen -- this film is full of gorgeous lush exteriors, the sensuality of fabric, and impressionistic components, including strange hairstyles and a talking fox (who wound up being one of my favorite parts of the film). It just didn't quite land right with me... I would have liked a more noble, just foolish, hero, rather than one compulsively shirking valor, but that does make his eventual choice at the end more an act of true growth and heroism than it would be otherwise.

Sexual Content
A man wakes up in a brothel, and we see naked women in the background; he's a womanizer, who has sex with another man's wife (she comes in and seduces him; they are clothed, but we see cum on his hand). He later has sex with his girlfriend back home (some nudity and movement); they are shown kissing and making love a few times (including his bare backside). Two men kiss each other, one taking from the other, who is surprised. Gawain encounters a bunch of naked giants, whose breasts are on display.
 
Language:
None.
 
Violence:
A creature's head is lopped off; we see blood, before it carries it severed head away. Various animal carcasses are shown in the woods, along with a field of dead bodies thieves are stripping for their possessions. A group attacks Gawain and beats him up before leaving him tied up and for dead. He finds a severed skull and returns it to a ghost, where it grows sinew and reattaches itself. We see a man headless at the end of his life.

Other:
Lots and lots of social drinking, in which some characters appear intoxicated.