With the constant conversations about disease and the fragility of the human body that surrounds us for the past few months, it is quite understandable that we should worry about death. Fears of mortality, so immediate – what was the source of that cough? – And broader – what happens after we die? – have taken root in my mind lately, distracting me while I do the normal things in life. Like, say, watching a movie.
What does David lowerynew movie, The green knight (in theaters June 30), strangely refreshing. An opulent account of the Arthurian chivalric romance Sir Gawain and the Green KnightLowery’s film looks death in the face and forces us to do so as well. It is a kind of poetic confrontation, one that addresses our particular concerns and the anguish of human history, the many centuries that our unfortunate lot has spent living fleeting lives and then simply ceasing to be. Though heavy and downcast, Lowery’s film makes enough sense, and certainly empathy, to elicit wry laughter here and there; our fatal condition is not without fun.
This is, in a way, familiar territory for Lowery. A fascinatingly itinerant filmmaker, Lowery has gifted us with a captivating and melancholic children’s film (Pete’s Dragon), a melancholic little criminal prank (The old man and the gun), and a moody criminal romance (Are not the bodies the saints?). And there it was A ghost story, a seductive rumination on death and memory that is in deep conversation with The green knight. Both films mix lyrical meditation with the frankness of being: skulls and rot, and the serene and menacing indifference of the natural world. Both films are scary and yet especially comforting in all their “let’s sit down and talk about it” invitation. Lowery is an amazing cinematic philosopher, his work is accessible as he pushes us towards new planes of thought.
The green knight has much more of a plot than A ghost story ago, a search narrative that leads to Gawain (Dev patel, wonderingly meditating) from the relatively cozy confines of court life (thankful and cold as it seems) to the dangers of the outside world. It’s a coming-of-age story about a young man struggling to achieve his life’s purpose while learning to accept the ultimate goal of everything. In that way, this new movie is the left side bookend for A ghost story. Death works like The green knightdreaded conclusion, and how A ghost storymysterious beginning.
On a windy Christmas day, Gawain accepts the challenge posed by the portly knight of the title, a species of arboreal creature who enters King Arthur’s court suggesting a game. He challenges one of Arthur’s knights to hit him with a sword, and then, a year later, he offers to be hit in the same way by the Green Knight. It doesn’t seem like a very fun game, especially when cheeky Gawain beheads the knight instead of, say, punching him on the cheek. Did Gawain just seal his fate, giving himself just one more year to live? Perhaps, which is where Lowery’s allegorical engine begins to hum. How does Gawain continue despite his almost certain destiny? The answer to that question is, of course, another question: How do we do it?
On his journey to fulfill his bargain with the Green Knight, Gawain essentially experiences all of life, compacted. He is beaten and bruised; lose and win; there’s romance and a stickier wave of lust; loneliness and kinship. Meanwhile, he marches closer to the abyss, towards the great end of things. It is a metaphor for all of us, our grasping for meaning as we stumble toward the only certainty that exists.
Lowery powerfully shapes his ideas and the particular physical circumstances of Gawain’s plight. It represents a medieval world in which the primeval still whispers, reminding us that our very distant ancestors had their own ancestors. It is an amazing thought, how vast humanity’s past really is, despite our relatively recent appearance on the planet. Though it might be foolish to say The green knight evokes a keen sense of presence, as if this might have been the murky truth of life back then. Lowery deftly balances the harsh, if totally imagined reality with the film’s supernatural swirl, somehow making manifest the very concept of myth, based on human experience but convinced of its connection to the otherworldly.
Patel, going alone Revenant campaign of suffering, makes him a great hero, conflicted and cowed, vain and honorable. He has an intimate relationship with Alicia vikander, in a couple of roles, and with Joel edgerton, who appears as the sneaky lord of a remote mansion with a game proposition of his own. Edgerton and Sean Harris, like a sick King Arthur, especially on Lowery’s portentous wavelength, muttering and growling as if the old, old earth itself was speaking through them.