'The Green Knight' movie review: What makes a man?

'The Green Knight' movie review: A tale of what maketh a man

Based on the Arthurian tale, 'The Green Knight' is a graceful film

Dev Patel pulls out the best performance he has to show so far in 'The Green Knight'. Credit: A24/YouTube

Director: David Lowrey

Cast: Dev Patel, Ralph Ineson, Alicia Vikander, Sean Harris, Sarita Choudhury

Score: 4/5 stars

Watching The Green Knight is a humbling experience, for it tells a tale of forgotten virtue, honour and trust, and that a man is not just living his day-to-day life, but eternally walking towards a destiny unknown, by his will or of another's.

Based on the Arthurian tale, The Green Knight is a graceful film. It takes many facets of modern and old storytelling - masculinity, myth and legend, the hero's journey, and melds it into a cohesive story that more than does justice to the tale it hopes to adapt. It is built on a foundation that has stood the test of time, and it proves itself equal to it.

That is no less in part due to Dev Patel's performance as Sir Gawain. Throughout his adventure and his trials as he goes from a hot-blooded young man to someone who realises that his task may well take him to his doom, and grows to meet his death head-on, Patel leaves no stone unturned to bring out his most human performance yet.

The tale of the Green Knight himself, however, is not told so very simply, for he is no being bound to the mortal coil, but created by Gawain's mother for a higher purpose - to bring out the best in Gawain by his hand, even if the young knight must face death to do so.

And so it comes to pass, that on Christmas day, the Green Knight challenges King Arthur's men to land a blow against him, with the cost that he will return any strike in a year's time, that Sir Gawain, thinking it a mere game, cuts the Knight's head clean off, earning himself the title of a legend, but bound to a game he does not know the true weight of.

His journey, bolstered on by Arthur himself, is the tale that the film tells most succulently. Undergoing many trials like seeking out the skull of a dead lady and surviving in the wild not only bring him closer to the end of his game, they draw out both the best and the worst of Gawain on full display - his honour and his immaturity as a man, which plays out in a form that tells how fear can turn the best of men dishonourable, and how that could lead to their downfall.

Throughout his journey, one thing is apparent - Gawain is no hero, nor is he a particularly likable man - but then again, if he were either, the tale would not have been told. This is where the genius of David Lowrey's direction melds with the acting prowess of Dev Patel to elevate his character to another level, and with it, the film itself. As a person, Gawain can be said to be borderline detestable, but as his journey draws closer to its end, he slowly comes to learn that there are things greater than him at play, and that is where The Green Knight shines bright.

There are some changes, some liberties taken from the original tale, of course, and one would be forgiven to not pay mind to them as they are but different ways of telling the same story, a fact that plays out to the benefit of the film, for it feels original in its own right as much as it does an adaptation. The Green Knight is a film that is highly ambitious and has a most wonderful journey reaching the ambition.

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