The Green Knight (2021)
July 31, 2021 12:39 PM - Subscribe

A fantasy re-telling of the medieval story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
posted by overglow (41 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Absolutely gorgeous, with Tarkovskyan lingering shots that you can fall right in to. And I loved how weird it was. A lot of these old christian romantic stories have a sort of weird mystical quality to them that I'd be hard pressed to define or describe but this movie delivers on.

On another note, at a certain part in the movie, when Gawain remarks that a painting is queer, someone shouted "The green knight is gay!" I wonder what movie that guy thought he going to see. Thankfully, aside from a bit of laughter here and there, there weren't any other disturbances, and the theatre was well spaced out with only a couple of people seated per row. But I'll probably wait for the VOD to see it again, I fear delta as a merely good man might fear beheading. I will definitely watch it again, though.
posted by rodlymight at 9:15 PM on July 31, 2021 [6 favorites]

My favorite movie in a while. I'm still processing it after seeing it last night but it's just an amazing feast for the eyes and ears and I love how Lowrey takes the bones of the of the poem and makes it a meditation on narratives and who gets to tell your story.

I'm wondering what the audience score will be like for this film; I saw at least one couple leave 3/4 of the way through; I think a lot of people will go in expecting a dashing swashbuckler and not a deliberate meditation on the meaning of valor and facing the consequences of your decisions.
posted by octothorpe at 7:08 AM on August 1, 2021 [3 favorites]

I think it may fall between two stools, being too weird for a mass audience but not quite ambitious enough for the hard-core art-house crowd. Like, it really felt like it was aimed at the younger crowd just learning that movies don't have to be representational. Which is not a slam! We all have to take that journey at some point. But even while it was pleasing to look at, from time to time I'd sigh and go, "yes, yes, of course, it's Christ imagery."

Dev Patel = also pleasing to look at.
posted by praemunire at 12:33 PM on August 1, 2021 [7 favorites]

I’ve loved the poem since I read it in high school, and Dev Patel is beautiful, so I was of course going to see this. It’s a gorgeous, gorgeous movie that almost doesn’t need words. It changes the story a bit, and I want to sit and think about the changes and how they work. I was really thrown by much of the last bit for a while.
It’s definitely a slow, thoughtful movie, and if people are expecting a swashbuckler, this is the wrong place to look.
posted by PussKillian at 2:15 PM on August 1, 2021 [2 favorites]

Visually stunning, and I enjoyed the dreamlike/mystical elements. Someone described it to me as "Arthurian legend meets the Seventh Seal." Dev Patel is a fantastic actor -- the movie is largely carried by his utter bewilderment and fear -- but Joel Edgerton steals the scenes he's in.

The only bit I was a little underwhelmed by was the Green Knight himself. When he showed up, I was like "... an Ent??" (Come to find out the effects were done by Weta Digital, so pretty much.) And the Headless Horseman part was almost a parody of itself. But the part toward the end where the Green Knight's sleeping face morphs subtly? Perfection.
posted by basalganglia at 4:05 PM on August 1, 2021 [3 favorites]

Yeah, his face slowly awakening was fantastic. I’ve loved Green Men (foliage faces/church grotesques) for ages so I was a little disappointed that he was more wood-faced than leaf-faced but I did like him a lot in his chapel.

For me the essence of the movie was captured in a couple of lines there: Is this all? What did you expect?
posted by PussKillian at 5:51 PM on August 1, 2021 [5 favorites]

This is going to be an amazing movie to have on in the background.

(I really enjoyed it, like PussKillian, I'm probably going to have to figure out how I feel about the changes around the end. I absolutley loved the Matilda scenes, and in general enjoyed the middle of the movie a lot more than I expected to.)
posted by dinty_moore at 7:02 PM on August 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

Loved the visual dream of it. It felt like the most French English-language film I've ever seen (and I mean that in the best Robert Bresson kind of way, though also had feels of Tarkovsky running through it too).

One thing I only read about afterwards in other discussions (though I suspected while watching that I was missing the symbolism), the tests reflect the five virtues of chivalry: friendship, generosity, chastity, courtesy, and piety. Gawain fails all of the tests in one sense or another.

The ambiguous ending felt too charmed with itself (a knowing chuckle by the director ay their own cleverness). I think it would have worked better with an extra thirty seconds that more clearly nodded to the original text with a line from the Green Knight along the lines of "what now?" (as an answer to "is this all?").
posted by kokaku at 4:30 AM on August 2, 2021 [4 favorites]

It's been forty years since I read the poem but I guess the movie swaps the outcomes of each trial that he goes through. In the poem he passes all the tests except the final one but is forgiven for that when he arrives home. In this version, he fails each tests and almost fails the Green Knight's test but finds his courage at the last minute. In the poem, he's already a knight so it's expected that he knows how to act as one and to follow the virtues but this Gawain is still learning and keeps stumbling.

During the premonition sequence at the end, I was really prepared to be unhappy with the end but was happy that it turned out to be a vision of how his failure could ruin the land.
posted by octothorpe at 5:36 AM on August 2, 2021 [5 favorites]

it turned out to be a vision of how his failure could ruin the land.

The scene of him on the throne pulling the sash off - like a green tendril in his guts - also made me think of the Fisher King's wound. The movie didn't go hard for it, but there definitely was a waft of "the king is the land" in that vision.
posted by PussKillian at 6:56 AM on August 2, 2021 [5 favorites]

Apparently a different ending was shot but Lowery felt it was “too sharp.”

“If people were to watch a movie in which Dev Patel gets beheaded at the end, they probably would like to leave the theater feeling differently than they do with the more ambiguous version.”

Of course, one has to engage with the movie as it exists, but it’s interesting to know that it was almost something else.

(PS I really hate the proliferation of “the ending, explained” headlines. Discussion: good, explanation: piss off, like you even know).
posted by rodlymight at 9:02 AM on August 2, 2021 [3 favorites]

I did watch a video that gave me a refresher on the poem but yeah, the ending is right there for you to watch. If it's ambiguous, then there's no right answer about what happened. We didn't see the axe take his head off so it's forever in an unknowable state.
posted by octothorpe at 9:06 AM on August 2, 2021

That vanity fair article is a lot better than the headline makes it sound - what Lowry had to say about the ending was the least interesting part. I appreciated some of the discussions on the costumes and the color work, though I think I'd like a full interview with the costume designer even more. The costumes were hit or miss for me - there were some stunners, but also the shirt that Gawain was wearing at Berteland's castle looked distractedly like a machine made raglan with a weird ruched torso.
posted by dinty_moore at 11:18 AM on August 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

Perhaps I am being rebuked by the universe for suggesting the film was not quite sophisticated enough, but I didn't think the ending was terribly ambiguous. The Knight drew a line across Gawain's throat to requite the blow Gawain gave him, said, "Off with your head," and smiled. Gawain lives, having learned from the awful vision in the moments before of the costs of cowardice and betrayal. Which seems to accord with the ending of the source text, where the Knight gives Gawain a wee cut and then he gets to go home in one piece, but has to wear the girdle as a reminder of his frailty.
posted by praemunire at 3:10 PM on August 2, 2021 [8 favorites]

I understand the director's thoughts about making a movie where the beheading is actually a happy ending - it's very Christian, in that in a sense Gawain would die in a state of grace (even if not exactly literally to church practice) and not have time to fall back into bad habits. But I think it's a waste of a perfectly good quest to throw away the knight at the end of it instead of sending him back out into the world to be a better person.
posted by PussKillian at 6:48 AM on August 3, 2021 [5 favorites]

It was fun to read up on Saint Winifred. My grandmother had that name and was from a Welsh family but I never knew that she was named after a saint.
posted by octothorpe at 7:11 AM on August 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

I want to watch it again, though I'm not sure I want to see it in the theatre. My showing was very dark and the sound was geared towards the effects and not the dialog. Still, I liked it and am very glad I went, and more glad that I read the poem about a month ago.

I think that the ending is somewhat ambiguous as while most of the events of the poem occur, they play out in the opposite way. In the poem Arthur encourages Gawain to cut off the Green Knight's head, whereas in the film the king reminds Gawain that this is a game, hinting, I think, that the correct thing to do is to show mercy and only touch the knight with the sword. In the poem he wears the belt for all of the blows, but in taking it off here and displaying the courage that he claimed he had set out to find/display I can see him either being rewarded and let off with a scratch, or loosing his head.
posted by Meeks Ormand at 7:30 AM on August 3, 2021 [4 favorites]

the sound was geared towards the effects and not the dialog

Seemed to be the same in my theater, though perhaps it's just early-middle-age hearing loss kicking in.
posted by praemunire at 8:26 AM on August 3, 2021

I think that's just modern sound mixing for films.
posted by octothorpe at 10:02 AM on August 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

I think that the ending is somewhat ambiguous as while most of the events of the poem occur, they play out in the opposite way.

True, true. I just feel the fact that the Knight touched him at all is most important. Why do that if not to requite the blow?

(Also, it does seem like Gawain's mom was in some way orchestrating the whole deal, so her executing her son seems unlikely.)
posted by praemunire at 11:36 AM on August 3, 2021 [3 favorites]

I was intermittently distracted by the very 70s era titles, which also brought Monty Python to mind of course, and my kid did say while Gawain was riding out "it would be funnier if he were using coconuts."

But it was a beautiful film, excepting the parts that were so dark I had no idea what exactly was happening.

St. Winifred was an excellent side quest, also snarky, "why would you ever ask me that?"
posted by emjaybee at 11:27 PM on August 4, 2021 [5 favorites]

Note: If you haven't been comfortable seeing this in theaters, it will be available for streaming one night only next Wednesday (August 18th) for $20 on A24's Screening Room service. It says there's a 4-hour window for starting the stream (9 PM - 1 AM Eastern), and you have four hours to finish it once you start.
posted by Rhaomi at 9:43 PM on August 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

I just saw this with my wife and we both loved it -- I don't know what relative darkness the director intended, but my only complaint was that about 80% of the movie was "so dark you have to squint" dark.

While I understand it's largely allegorical, I do have bean-overthinking plot questions, though (spoilers, natch):

1. Does Gawain's mother (Morgan le Fey, if she's Arthur's sister?) magic up the Green Knight with her fellow witches at the beginning? It seems like everyone's having a nice Christmas and they're up in a tower, and zip zap zoop the Green Knight shows up. And if yes... why?

2. Is the consistent pronunciation of Gawain as "Gowan", and Gawain's penchant for flowing clothing a deliberate evocation of '80s Canadian pop sensation Gowan, himself known for flowy clothes and embodying the five virtues of Canadian pop stardom (good hooks, great hair, synth drums, a song on Degrassi and relative obscurity beyond our borders)?

3. Is the fox on Team Quest or Team Don't-Quest? He seems to be along for the ride for most of it and then there's a sudden pivot to Don't-Quest that I can't see much narrative sense in.

4. How long do we think Gawain is tripping balls after eating the mushrooms? His hand disintegrates, his hand is back, and... then he's fine? Or are subsequent head-pond and giant adventures also hallucinations?

5. I don't quite track the Last Temptation scenario at the end, chiefly because he runs away rather than having the magic sash save his life. So when he returns, and takes off the magic sash -- that's brave, but he still doesn't know if the magic sash would have worked at all, because he ran away in the Last Temptation scenario. "If I live, everything goes to crap, so maybe you should cut my head off" doesn't seem to be courage as much as resignation.

I know that there's a "it's all allegory, don't ask plot questions" answer to all of this, but the allegory works best if the narrative underpinning the allegory also hangs together (IMO). So I don't think it's entirely out of bounds to pick at the plot threads, even if the overall impression is meant to be symbolic/fantastical.
posted by Shepherd at 4:34 PM on August 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

I read the abovelinked Vanity Fair article in the interim, and it does address the pronunciation thing directly, and the mom and fox elements in a kind of hand-wavy "it's messy!" sort of way.
posted by Shepherd at 3:47 AM on August 16, 2021

Thanks for everyone in the thread who commented, especially rodlymight for the vanity fair link! I'm far from a sophisticated film-viewer, so reading everyone's thoughts helped me understand what was going on here.

I enjoyed it mostly, but I needed a little more time in Camelot up top to really get what the journey was about. Some things are gestured at in dialogue but not really borne out in what we saw. Though I guess I can't really fault the director/editor for wanting to get to the fun, weird stuff.

I'm guessing everyone was touching Gawain's face as a sort of weird, tender nod to beheading, but also because David Lowery knows what's inside all of us, and that's a desire to reach out and caress Dev Patel's face. And if all of us can't do it, a tree man certainly can, and that has to be good enough.
posted by snerson at 11:27 AM on August 16, 2021 [6 favorites]

Vogue has an interview with the costume designer, though it's less informative than the Vanity Fair article (it does not answer the question 'why the raglan?') - still, I thought it was interesting.
posted by dinty_moore at 1:46 PM on August 16, 2021

I watched this in a completely empty theater on Saturday and am planning on the Wednesday streaming event. This movie spoke to me so fully it felt like a sacred thing. A24 continues to produce amazing films.

I had no previous desire to read Arthurian legends and the like, but now I am all in- which to me is the sign of a good piece of art- it makes me curious to learn about other things.

On the flip side, I was looking around for podcasts discussing this film and ran across one with some guy who was upset it wasn't more like a Marvel movie? And he was mad they showed the trailer at Comicon and then it wasn't a comic book version of the legend...? So I guess if those are your criteria, this movie isn't for you.
posted by haplesschild at 3:37 PM on August 16, 2021 [2 favorites]

Someone described it to me as "Arthurian legend meets the Seventh Seal."

The ending also felt like it had some Last Temptation of Christ mixed in there too.

And I really, really appreciated that they didn't try to shoehorn in some tortured explanation for how someone with Dev Patel's skin tone ended up in Romano-Saxon Britain - it was just "Dev Patel is Gawain, deal with it so we can get on with the story."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:42 AM on August 19, 2021 [4 favorites]

We've had 120 years of anglos playing middle-eastern, Mediterranean and asian characters in films. It's going to take a lot of Dev Petel performances to even that out.
posted by octothorpe at 7:35 AM on August 19, 2021 [3 favorites]

Oh, agreed - I was speaking more from a place of other films coming up with "here's an early scene where so-and-so arrives on a boat or is in a shipwreck that we've shoehorned in to 'explain' things" that stick out like a sore thumb. Didn't need it then, didn't need it here. ...Ironically, I've just read an interview with Dev where he says that when he was filming The Personal History of David Copperfield, he was actually surprised that the director wasn't putting a scene like that in and was "fixated on that" for a few days.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:55 AM on August 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

Just streamed this last night, and it just really made me want to watch it on a big screen. Don't think I'm going to (*glares at Delta*) but I really want to. I could see how gorgeous the cinematography was even underneath the shitty bitrate and intermittent pixelation. It felt a little Tarkovsky and a little Jodorowsky -- the manipulation of time, the vividness of symbols. While it wasn't in any sense strictly historical, its vibe and story logic was absolutely spot-on for the source material. As a kid, I spent a lot of time poring over stories of King Arthur and his knights, and this brought me right back there. Oh my goodness did I love St. Winifred! And Dev Patel was so, so excellent.

It is absolutely to Dev Patel's credit that we empathize with Gawain from moment one, even despite his many unpleasant qualities. I've been really enjoying the needlessly complicated circumlocutions that reviewers have been using to describe Gawain's character at the beginning of the film.
- "He’s a failson, a nephew, a hanger-on at the Round Table, coasting on his charm, his good looks and his family connections." -A.O. Scott
- "...he’s just a kid reluctant to commit himself to anything more than carousing." -Alison Willmore
- "...Gawain the lad—lusty, hasty, and unsure of his noble vocation." -Anthony Lane
- "...his Gawain is a shiftless teenage libertine..." -A.A. Dowd
- "To put it nicely, he’s a womanizing lush with commitment issues..." -Robert Daniels

Y'all, just say he's a fuckboy.

I'll definitely need to watch this one a second time to fully digest it. Looking forward to having the opportunity to do so.
posted by ourobouros at 8:37 AM on August 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

I also love how weird and raw it was. The mythos of early Christianity, especially in the Celtic parts of the world, went through some g-damn weird phases as converts tried to synthesize some of the admittedly already-weird bits of Christian imagery with the also-weird bits of Celtic myth, and that's how you get talking foxes and enchanted sashes and maybe-ghosts who ask you if you wouldn't mind just diving in this pond and getting their heads out, please.

And I loved that early shot of Gawain just starting out on his quest- instead of showing the triumphant and celebratory bit with cheering crowds and waving flags and what-not which likely happened as he was first riding out of Camelot, we pickup up a little bit after, as he is still trying to look noble trotting along this long, long road leading him further and further into the middle of nowhere, where the only people to see him still trying to sit up straight and look noble are some kids and a bunch of sheep and after a couple of long minutes he finally starts to look around him like, " long is this gonna take?"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:32 AM on August 19, 2021 [4 favorites]

terrific film. i had issues with the dark and the muddy dialog. that's my only complaint.

I'll see it again after i reread the tale.

it did seem like mom conjured the knight, attempting to remedy Gawain's failure to launch.

favorite shot: tied at the base of the tree, camera does horizontal 'circular' pan to the right. traversing seasons until we arrive back at Gawain, dead and rotted. clockwise, into the future. then the reverse, counterclockwise back to the present. seems to represent Gawain's look to his future, his death. it motivates him to take action. it foreshadows the climactic scene.

later, as he kneels before the knight, anticipating the blow - he looks into his possible future and chooses honor.
posted by j_curiouser at 1:32 PM on August 19, 2021 [3 favorites]

Y'all, just say he's a fuckboy.
I would have preferred more of an emphasis on the fuckboyness of it all, especially at castle bertilak. obligatory toast reference. I've read a lot of meta about this movie and how it really ignores the queer sub/text of the original tale, so I'll come back to link those later.

favorite shot: tied at the base of the tree, camera does horizontal 'circular' pan to the right. traversing seasons until we arrive back at Gawain, dead and rotted. clockwise, into the future. then the reverse, counterclockwise back to the present. seems to represent Gawain's look to his future, his death. it motivates him to take action. it foreshadows the climactic scene.

Perhaps I was overthinking it while I was watching, but I perceived this scene and its successor more as Gawain going on to experience those things, to his ultimate ends, and then being returned magically to that point to continue his quest. Sort of a side effect between Morgan le Fay's magic and the inherent mysticality of Arthurian quests. After all, it's not a quest unless he completes it.
posted by snerson at 6:59 AM on August 20, 2021 [5 favorites]

My friend didn't find the ending ambiguous at all. She was disappointed to hear that in the poem, Gawain definitely survives; she found that a cop-out, less true to life. In life, honor is rarely rewarded, you can be honest and suffer, or lie and feel guilty. I can see her point - virtue has to be its own reward, and if the Green Knight is Nature, well, Nature is merciless. Play stupid games, win stupid prices, why should Gawein survive his stunt? He's not the only boy out for glory - we already met the other ones as corpses on the battlefield.

If the Green Knight is not primarily a symbol of Nature (and how could he be? He is also Bertilac, the hunter, as opposed as he's aligned to it), however, he is - and I think the poem supports that reading - mostly just a regular guy enchanted by Morgan (not Gawain's mom in the poem) to mess with the knights and freak out Guinevere. And then, well, there's just no reason for him to kill Gawain. It is, after all, just a game; there's nothing to gain from Gawain's death; the point is to humble the knights, and stop them from buying into their own hype too much; Gawain needs to see that he's not quite as brave as he wants to appear. If I set out to humble someone, I'd like to get to enjoy their new-found humility in action; killing them right after seems a waste of my efforts. Nature doesn't care about honesty, people occasionally might.

When I read the story before, I lowkey always rooted for Gawain to cheat. I'm not very much one for dying for honor. Sacrificing yourself so that someone else may live, sure, I will admire that, but sacrificing yourself for your self-image? (And be it your self-image in your own eyes only, I actually don't even think the distinction matters all that much here). I found the beheading game exceedingly stupid, accepting the challenge was already the first mistake, but not necessarily one that merits getting killed for.

Of course that's just because I would never have accepted the challenge, I've never pretended to that sort of courage Gawain wants to project. It's a slightly more interesting challenge, if you understand the assignment - not a test of mettle but a trust-fall exercise. Can you see someone's vulnerability and not exploit that? Can you trust that they won't exploit yours in turn? Can you take the stranger at his word, that he's not seeking a foe? It's a game to test a lover, not a fighter.

Of course that's not how Gawain understands it - the film makes it very obvious that he doesn't; he freaks out, when the Green Knight makes no move to attack him, lays down his weapon, bares his neck - that's no way to find out who's the better fighter, and what other point could there be?

In the poem, it's less clear - maybe Gawain gets it, maybe he's just not here for it, maybe he's trying to be clever about it in an Alexander-just-smashing-the-knot way. And, fair enough, I wouldn't be too keen on doing trust-fall exercises with some rando coming in from the street to crash the party - like, maybe let's start with some small talk, get to know each other first. But in the poem, it's also very clear how much Gawain is set up by Arthur, who's in my opinion, the true villain of the piece. Gawain only volunteers after Arthur, who could nip the foolishness in the bud, succumbs to the Green Knight's taunts and decides to go along with the game to preserve his reputation. In a way, Gawain does nobly sacrifice himself, because, once Arthur has decided this is happening, someone has to. And in the poem, Arthur very much advises Gawain to go for the kill.

I also found it interesting, that the movie seemingly reverses that aspect, having Arthur remind Gawain that it's a game. It makes Gawain's failure more individual, less systemic. But in the film too, it's Arthur who decides, yep, this is happening, we're doing this. And in the film too, I don't necessarily get the sense it's about teaching his knights the value of accepting vulnerability for Arthur, he has just made a pretty ra-ra-speech about subjugating those Saxons. And as we later see the results of his military exploits on the corpse-strewn battlefield, he's also no stranger to the overkill approach - leave no survivors, don't risk a rematch.

This is the club, that Gawain wants to join - or vaguely feels he's supposed to want to join, since his mum and his uncle Arthur clearly want him to - and the film is about his realization that no, he actually doesn't, it's not worth it. He sees the emptiness of his ambitions, and how the power would corrupt him, and resigns himself to death. What shall it profit the man, if he shall gain the world, and lose his own soul?

I would have liked it better, if that realization just made him decide to go home as a coward, admit his failure, give up the pretense, with his head held high, as the fox suggested, not caring what the cool kids think any more. I still don't entirely see why it would mean he has to die. But okay. Nice idea, very Christian, completely fine message for the movie.

Big departure from the poem though. Because the poem is about testing a lover, and that element really gets lost in this film.

To me, the most interesting thing about the poem is that unlike in the movie, Gawain actually _passes_ the chastity portion of his trials. Sure, it's a definition of chastity that involves a counter-intuitive (to me) amount of flirting and making out, but there's indeed a line Gawain never crosses with Lady Bertilac. More importantly, he honours the agreement by returning all the kisses he owes to the Lord - and not half-heartedly either ("long and deliciously" in the Tolkien translation). This time, he fully seems to grasp the spirit of the exercise, even if there are some minor flaws in execution. He does fail to disclose the gift of the girdle, but that's not out of malice or subterfuge ("for no artful wickedness, and for no wooing either") , but out of a fairly natural instinct for self-preservation, and the Green Knight, being so in touch with nature, can acknowledge that. He doesn't seem to feel too terribly betrayed at their final encounter. Gawain is not trying to come between him and his wife by keeping the girdle - he's just trying to improve his odds in the next trial.

For what it's worth, the Green Knight never really made himself vulnerable either - he had Morgan's spell to protect him, which he also didn't disclose when he issued his initial challenge. In a way, Gawain is just levelling the playing field. (In the poem Gawein gets to comment on it, when the Green Knight mocks him for flinching after the first feint - easy not to flinch, when you know you can just pick up your head afterwards). It's obviously still plenty brave to submit to the blow even with the girdle, because Gawain has never seen it in action and has to trust that it works (which is why film-Gawain in failure mode doesn't even do that, he just legs it). But he's still pretending to be braver than he is, and is suitably chastened when called out.

In the end, the poem seems to be fairly pro "fake it till you make it" however. The values of chivalry are portrayed as ultimately worthwhile even though the knights don't entirely live up to them. The world is a wild and scary place, and you won't always know the rules of the game, but if you go at it with the right attitude, people might give you some margin of error.
posted by sohalt at 4:37 PM on August 29, 2021 [13 favorites]

Excellent analysis, sohalt! Thank you, very much. I think I disagree with you about this point, in particular:

I would have liked it better, if that realization just made him decide to go home as a coward, admit his failure, give up the pretense, with his head held high, as the fox suggested, not caring what the cool kids think any more.

What life was there for him, if he returned home as a coward? He's trapped within a system that, ultimately, doesn't care about him so much as a particular image of him. He can't be anyone except the person he is supposed to be. There is no value he is permitted to see in himself except the value of Becoming A Knight, and he doesn't have access to any of the resources that would allow him to really inspect his society's values critically and come out self-loving on the other side.

It's super interesting to think about how the test he fails is a test of love. Moments before the Green Knight arrives, King Arthur is lamenting the lack of love he provided during Gawain's youth. If Arthur had been there to bounce Baby Gawain on his knee, would Gawain have better been able to understand the game he ultimately played?

What also really stood out to me is that, with Saint Winifred, Gawain's first impulse isn't to ask for a reward. She asks for her head, he starts to turn to go get it, and then he turns back to ask what she'll give him... This, right after the guy in the field made it very clear that you can't just expect strangers to be nice to you for no reason.

Gawain's desperate, it seems, to know what he is expected to be. He's looking to others, to find a model for himself. But what he gets is, ultimately, not what he really needs.
posted by meese at 8:27 PM on November 6, 2021 [3 favorites]

Initial reaction:

Wow. I really wish David Lowery had directed the new Dune.

More thoughts later.
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:28 PM on December 18, 2021 [1 favorite]

This is the club, that Gawain wants to join - or vaguely feels he's supposed to want to join, since his mum and his uncle Arthur clearly want him to - and the film is about his realization that no, he actually doesn't, it's not worth it. He sees the emptiness of his ambitions, and how the power would corrupt him, and resigns himself to death. What shall it profit the man, if he shall gain the world, and lose his own soul?

I've been thinking about this; at least about how the film dealt with Gawain still going through with it and with the Green Knight letting him off. I'm not sure I quite agree - I think that it's more about Gawain growing up and getting more of a visceral understanding of what "honor" and "glory" and all that actually are.

It's easy to be honorable and Do The Right Thing when everyone around you is cheering and celebrating you as a hero. You'll do the brave thing and chop off the intruder's head and everyone will cheer and carry you around on their shoulders and there will be much rejoicing (yay). People will fawn over you and you'll get the best cuts of beef and the best clothes and women will flirt with you all the time; that's awesome.

And that's the part about being a noble and brave knight that Gawain is drawn to - the fame and the glory. And this film, I think, is about how Gawain learns that there's some mucky and nasty and ugly bits too - like, how you are also expected to say no to those women who flirt with you if they're married, even if they're coming on to you. Or it's about camping out alone in creepy woods if you're on a solo quest. Or it's about willingly going to a ruined chapel where a supernatural dude is going to kill you, for no other reason than "because I promised I would do this and now here I am".

It's easy to be Noble And Brave when there are a whole bunch of people around you cheering you on; it's not as easy when you are all alone, far from home, and you are 100% guaranteed going to die if you follow through with a promise you made a year ago. It would be very easy for Gawain to nope out at the last minute - "y'know what, I'm gonna leave after all, fuck this". Maybe the Green Knight would try to come after him, maybe he wouldn't - but at least there's a chance Gawain would live if he broke his word and ran away. But he doesn't - he thinks about it, sure, and that's what that last dream sequence is about is him realizing that running away would lead to bad things, and that's what makes him stay and say "okay, here I am, take your swing."

And that, I think, is why the Green Knight in the film lets him off. Gawain has grown up and finally realized what real honor is - how even when The Right Thing To Do is someone that's going to fuck you over, and no one is ever going to know about the noble deed you did but you still do it anyway, then you really get it and are truly honorable instead of just paying lip service to the concept because you want the fame.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:35 AM on December 20, 2021 [4 favorites]

Finally was in the right mood for this. I was worried during the rather tedious letter writing scene, and then the Guinevere's scary reading voice and very burning paper.. It seemed a bit much, but I enjoyed it after that.

I don't think I want to watch this movie again but it's fun to think about and read what other people think.

It's been a long time since I read the poem but I remember the beginning was different too. IIRC the poem makes a deal out of the Green Knight being a pretty big jerk when he comes in, and disrespectful of the King, so it's more understandable that he would seem like a jerk who needs to be put down. The way they did it in the movie it makes this Gawain just seem pretty fucking dumb.

But maybe that's appropriate, and better fits one of the more interesting aspects of the story and what makes it such a neat strange myth. What kind of weird quest is it, to go forward to meet your death? And so purely expressed too. There's no greater good to it, it seems so meaningless and arbitrary and a little unfair. Well that's the quest we're all on. So idk, I think making Gawain less special plays into this better.

I'm not sure Gawain could have succeeded his tests either. Would any amount of coin to the thief have been enough? Did the Lady need to look just like Essel? St. Winifred, in this, was beheaded by a knight, and, like the battlefield, Gawain carries some of that guilt as well. The wrongs aren't rightable. Is Gawain failing the generosity test or is generosity itself failing.

The sash is interesting too. I don't think we ever see it "working". It doesn't really do anything, it's just faith of invulnerability itself. So, not: he has it =%gt; he's invulnerable, but rather: he believes he's invulnerable => he has it. So it's what he must give up to receive the blow.

.3. Is the fox on Team Quest or Team Don't-Quest? He seems to be along for the ride for most of it and then there's a sudden pivot to Don't-Quest that I can't see much narrative sense in.

Well my personal reading was that the fox is sort Gawain's cleverness. Which is not to say he's unusually clever, but I mean like ego and the desire to survive and 'win'. In the encounter with the giants, Gawain is about to get crushed like nothingness, but the fox saves him and the giants echo its howl, that here is a being just like them that is just trying to be itself.

The fox wants Gawain to succeed the quest, but if the quest is certain death, the closest you can get to success is to just get right up to the edge of it, do as much as anyone could expect you to do, then turn back. No one could blame you for that, right?

4. How long do we think Gawain is tripping balls after eating the mushrooms? His hand disintegrates, his hand is back

Well I kinda thought it was that he was going through some deaths he 'should' have had, but really couldn't until his symbolically meaningful one.
posted by fleacircus at 11:38 PM on December 27, 2021 [2 favorites]

I have to say. I love Arthurian legend, but really, really hated this retelling. It seems to kind of dislike its source material in a way I wish had been more obvious on the tin. Also dislike giving him a non-Ragnelle romance. Gawain is in many ways the best of the knights in that he considers women’s agency, and they just make him an utter ass. Plenty of better knights to do that with.
posted by corb at 2:09 PM on May 27

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