Quick synopsis: Gawain, a young knight (Dev Patel) is determined to prove himself to his uncle King Arthur at a party when the event is crashed by The Green Knight with a deal: someone can strike the Knight with an axe, and in one years time will get the same given to him. Gawain cuts his head off and is horrified when the Knight gets back up and re-attaches his head, leaving after reminding Gawain of his promise.
That was not a quick synopsis I know. But this is not a quick film, it is long, and it is slow, and it is powerful. I had the trailer for this before quite a few films this year. It looked like it was going to be a weird one. A24 films have a habit of being a bit weird, and their horrors are usually deeply disturbing (although is this a horror? What is it? I’ve watched it and still not sure). It was then announced that the cinematic release for the UK had been cancelled. I’m used to films being cancelled but this was the most disappointing, I didn’t want to have to watch this on a computer screen as it wouldn’t really feel right. Thankfully it came to Amazon Prime. Now I do have some issues with Prime, it’s probably the major streaming service I use least, primarily because of how much it seems to have contempt for the people who use it
I have to say, and this surprises me quite a lot, I think this may have actually been better to watch at home than at a cinema. This is a strange film, the kind of one you need to set out a block of time to watch it, and then set aside some time afterwards to get back to normal. And at home it allows you to take the film in at your own pace, and you need that for something like this. It’s like a very rich meal, no matter how much you’re enjoying it, it’s difficult to tackle in one sitting.
I can’t really explain why this is. I’ve seen weirder films. I’ve seen more devastating films. But for some reason this one sat really heavy with me. It’s the film equivalent of wading through a thick swamp, and I already know I’m going to need a second viewing of it.
I will admit, this film does gain something if you’re familiar with the Arthurian legend on which it’s based. There are some character motivations that you won’t understand (and you might even think it’s actually a plot hole), and the ending may frustrate you if you don’t know how the original story ends. It’s a film that encourages research. Normally I hate that but this film is so fascinating that I don’t mind.
On the subject of the ending: there is a chance they have changed it from the original tale. It’s incredibly open to interpretation. But in a sense it doesn’t matter. What will happen isn’t important, what is important is that no matter what does happen, he has accepted it.
This is superbly directed by the way, the only previous film of David Lowery that I have seen was Pete’s Dragon, and I wasn’t too impressed by that, but he completely nails this. Every scene is full of incredible detail and love. He injects the film with a strange energy and tone which I am all for.
Dev Patel continues to impress with his performances. He’s quickly becoming one of my favourite performers to see on screen. His presence lights up the screen in this, providing a balance of cocksureness and doubt. Somebody who feels he has a lot to live up to, and is determined to prove his worth, but does so by making some terrible mistakes. The whole concept of the film is from him making a bad decision, if he just made a small cut on the Knights face, he’d have been fine. But because he was so desperate to prove himself, he decapitated them. He has proven himself, but over the next year he sees his life turned into a story, people are more concerned with telling his tale than learning from it. The story is more important to them than the person. You can just see how that breaks him, and it’s perfect.
So yeah, in summary I loved this film. but there is a chance you will completely hate it. It is very slow, it leaves a lot of things unsaid and it is improved by background reading. It is frustrating, with characters seeming important and then leaving. A truly divisive film, but one that will definitely inspire a strong reaction, even if it is one of hate. This is the closest film has got to the old storytelling medium of “telling a long story around a campfire”. A few years ago Warner Bros. were attempting to kickstart an Arthurian Cinematic Universe. If they were like this, I would have been in full support of it.