Eight out of the 27 people seated in my Sunday night screening of “The Green Knight” walked out before the ending credits rolled. That means that roughly one-third of the people watching decided that this two-hour epic tale was not worth the price of admission. However, the rest of us were enthralled. David Lowery’s adaptation of the 13th-century poem “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” was stunning; it featured compelling acting, beautiful cinematography and undeniable truths of life. But its slow paced plot and lack of blockbuster action left some viewers bored and wanting more.
“The Green Knight” follows Sir Gawain (Dev Patel) on his mission to confront a mysterious creature, called the Green Knight, that is not from this world. When the Green Knight appears at King Arthur’s feast on Christmas Day, he offers a game to the crowd, Gawain included. The Green Knight said anyone who is brave enough to confront him in a duel will have their strike matched and returned one year later. In essence, if anyone chooses to harm the Green Knight, he will return and harm them in the exact same way –– a punch for a punch so to speak. Gawain, eager to prove himself, rose to the occasion, encountering many adventures and life lessons along the way. A24 created an excellent teaser about the origin of the folktale, along with a brief summary of the complicated plot.
Lowery worked with A24 before “The Green Knight,” producing “A Ghost Story” in 2017. Although the films are entirely different, they feature similar pacing and style that is true to Lowery himself. “The Green Knight” contained hushed dialogue and long establishing shots that added to the atmosphere of the overall film. Lowery’s directing style made it hard not to feel completely immersed in the movie, especially seeing it in the theater.
The practical effects in “The Green Knight” were unbelievable and truly made the film into a masterpiece. In 2021, blockbuster films rely heavily on CGI to create the fantastical parts of their stories. While “The Green Knight” does feature scenes using CGI, it’s interspersed with a variety of other practical effects. Things like Gawain’s skeleton, Winifred’s head and even the Green Knight himself are all completely and impressively real.
Ralph Ineson, who played the Green Knight in the film, spoke on the challenges and triumphs of getting into prosthetics every morning in an interview with Bloody Disgusting. “It involved getting up very, very early because the prosthetic makeup took three-and-a-half hours,” Ineson said. “[Prosthetic Makeup Designer] Barrie Gower and [SFX artist] Jessica Brooks had to spend three-and-a-half hours with me every morning putting it on.”
Ineson’s hearing and sight were dulled because of the prosthetics, but he described feeling extra in tune with his sense of smell while filming in the Green Chapel. “The location was flowering with wild garlic,” Ineson said. “It just smelled really intense and really beautiful. And that in itself helped me.”
Patel completely embodies Gawain, both the good and the bad, throughout “The Green Knight.” The cast features many A24 favorites, including Barry Keoghan from “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” along with Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie from “The Witch.” Alicia Vikander acted as both Esel, Gawain’s concubine love interest, and the Lady of the house who seduces Gawain on his quest. Lowery’s ironic choice to cast Vikander in both of these roles, as Gawain’s love interests, highlights the similarities between the women that Gawain loves, and makes the viewer question the sanity of their narrator.
Gawain is an unreliable narrator throughout the film’s entirety. Some viewers complained about this aspect of “The Green Knight,” saying it was confusing and unsure of itself. But, instead of watching Gawain struggle from the outside, viewers are brought with him on his hallucinogenic mushroom trip to see giants and talking foxes — whether they like it or not. Lowery’s choice to drag viewers through the trenches of Gawain’s quest further immersed them in the movie.
“The Green Knight” isn’t for everyone. It features themes of paganism and witchcraft. It’s slow paced and has an absolutely haunting soundtrack. But, it sticks with those who enjoy it like an earworm. There’s so much more to discover on a second or third watch of this film that it’s overwhelming. There are overarching themes of honor, courage and failure, coupled with practical effects that make the film even more magical. And, of course, it has Dev Patel. If you’re looking for a slow movie that builds into a thrilling finish, go and watch “The Green Knight.”