‘The Green Knight’ is a fresh take on the legend

Dev Patel (“Hotel Mumbai”) gives a captivating performance as the heroic Sir Gawain in “The Green Knight,” bringing depth and humanity to a mythical character. // Photo courtesy of A24

Our Take: 5 Stars

For thousands of years, mankind has been telling and retelling myths and legends. From stories passed down through word of mouth to legends written and rewritten over the years, our fervor for myth has only grown.

Arthurian legends like “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” date back to the 5th and 6th centuries. While the historical actualities have been heavily debated, King Arthur has been a large force in English and Welsh folklore for over a thousand years.

The most recent adaptation of Arthurian myth is David Lowery’s epic film, “The Green Knight.” After being delayed for over a year, the film, produced and distributed by A24, has been highly anticipated by both critics and movie lovers across the globe.

The film, which has been advertised as a retelling that is more faithful to the original story of “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” has been quite polarizing since its release.

It’s important to note that the story of “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” like any legend that has been handed down through the generations, has no single definitive version. Before being told in this film, this story was retold many times — each retelling slightly, or not so slightly, different from the last. “The Green Knight,” while adhering much more closely to its source material than other modern Arthurian adaptations, does take some liberties.

This film is not for everyone. It is definitely slow and meandering, and while it does follow a definitive plot, it doesn’t always feel like it. It is also largely metaphorical and the best way to approach it is through the lens of some medieval moral lesson.

Like its source material, the entire epic is crafted to convey certain ideas and certain lessons. In approaching the film this way, each individual event becomes easier to swallow and the seeming abstractness of certain scenes becomes more clear.

David Lowery has established himself as one of the most promising new faces in American cinema. He made his name crafting nuanced and thought-provoking works (such as previous A24 production “A Ghost Story”) and with his newest film nothing has changed. Despite the fact that “The Green Knight” is telling a moral lesson, it is surprisingly subtle and well crafted; It doesn’t beat you over the head with its message.

Every element of the film, from the writing, the direction, cinematography and acting are all crafted with a specific purpose in mind, and so all aspects of the production are in harmony with each other. If any part of the film was lacking then the magic spell would have been broken. Fortunately for the audience, the technical aspects of the film are nearly flawless.

Lowery crafts an eerie and ethereal ambiance throughout the whole film that pulls the audience in and doesn’t let them look away for a second—not that anyone would want to look away from this film anyway. Each frame is stunning, evoking the impression of a piece of medieval artwork.

The real standout of “The Green Knight”, however, is the acting. Each performance, from Dev Patel’s (“Hotel Mumbai”) Gawain to Ralph Ineson’s (“The Office”) Green Knight, is powerful and captivating. Dev Patel brings depth, pain and honor to the role of Gawain, taking a mythically large hero and turning him into a man. Two scene stealers are the captivating and grounded Alicia Vikander (“Jason Bourne”), who portrays the commoner Essel, and Sean Harris (“Mission: Impossible”), who brings quiet majesty to the role of Arthur.

Some of this film’s greatest strengths, however, could also be its biggest criticisms. Like many quests the film has a slow, meandering pace.

And while it never loses focus of its goal, its progression is slow. Combining this pace with the highly metaphorical nature of the film results in a difficult viewing experience. The right attitude is required when viewing this work, and multiple viewings might be necessary.

This is a film that is meant to be felt, rather than seen. It is a story of honor, regret, fear, virtue and death. It approaches these ideas with honesty and reverence, giving nothing more or less than the truth. It is a difficult subject to discuss and, truthfully, difficult film to watch, but there is an honesty to the film that urges the audience to look deep into their own souls. It is not necessarily a film that will not be understood in its entirety, but it is one whose message will reverberate deeply in each viewer long after the credits roll.