Podcast episode: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1831254/9074878
This week – as part of the costume series – we’re going with a period drama that just came out called THE GREEN KNIGHT directed by David Lowry, starring Dev Petal, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, and more. It is a tale adapted from the anonymous Arthurian poem “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” – written in the 14th century. It is considered a chivalric romance – which at this time meant more of an odyssey with a lesson.
It is a coming-of-age story where Sir Gawain, King Arthur’s nephew – yes, this is the same King Arthur who you might known from the stories about the Knights of the Round Table and the stories about the fictitious Camelot.
One Christmas evening the Green Knight – who is sort of like this gallant forest creature – arrives at the gathering of the knights of the round table and challenges whoever is brave enough to go up against him with a “game.” And he doesn’t really mean like a little gin rummy around the fire. His idea of a game is a little bit more like how JIGSAW PLAYS GAMES IN THE SAW movies.
The poem that this film is based is one of the best known Arthurian stories, with its plot combining two types of folk motifs, the beheading game and the exchange of winnings. The Green Knight dares any knight to strike him with his axe if he is willing take a return blow in a year and a day later.
Sir Gawain, up until this point spends most of his time drunk, sleeping it off or sleeping with women, decides to try to show off and prove himself to his knightly brothers. It is also understood that his mother, who is a witch, has set these cards into motion to create an opportunity for her son to step up to the plate, but her role in all this and its true significance is a little bit more enigmatic & purposely left shrouded in mystery.
That being said, his game with the Green Knight pushes him to begin a journey to finding courage and learning about life in fantastical ways, and really, it is the kind of movie that is best watched not described. So if you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend going to see it before listening to the rest of this episode – partially because of light spoilers, but partially because half of what we are saying just simply won’t make sense if you haven’t watched first. Unless you have a thorough knowledge of the poem which its based and Arthurian legend.
There is a lot of symbolism in this movie & there are a lot of things that are left up to interpretation – which makes it really fun to discuss and unpack, so I will only be able to cover a small bit today & I have a special guest on today who has a more thorough knowledge and obsession with this time period, so I hope you enjoy.
But first, I’ll dive into some of my biggest take aways and some background.
For me, the most powerful storyline that drives the film forward is the overarching lesson of what it means to take responsibility for yourself, and how taking the easy way out to cut corners and get ahead in life, is never easier in the end.
Gawain is the perfect example of someone who wants to be perceived as GREAT, but not having been Knighted yet, and not having much experience in battle or adventuring like the other men, he wants to utilize this opportunity with the Green Knight’s game to do so.
In one moment with his love interest, she comments “This is how silly men perish” to which he states “this is how good men become great.” Her response though says it all: Why greatness? Why isn’t goodness enough?”
And in the finale of the film, we see that goodness is far more difficult to achieve.
And his cowardly decision to cut corners for the extra years of life, buys him nothing but despair and shame and guilt.
Death will come for him no matter what, so the question becomes how is he going to face it?
Notably, in the original poem, Gawain is ALREADY a pure of heart knight, whose story more closely reflects Jesus Christ – in the biblical sense, and as was depicted in the powerful film “The Last Temptation of Christ” where his honor is being tested. Here, he is characterized by being more of an anti-hero whose own self-righteousness becomes his fall.
If you’re interested in diving into the original poem, apparently the Audiobook version read by Simon Armitage is really good (he reads it in English and then in Middle English)Another aspect of the film which I found to be really powerful is the metaphor between mankind and nature woven in. The Green Knight seems to represent Mother Nature & the film shows how nature is going to outlive us all. We will eventually have to pay for how we treat Mother Nature & we cannot outrun her or trick her or fight it.
Though much of the symbolism is more subtle, there is a monologue given by Alicia Vikander’s character at one point in the film, where she says, “Green is the color of living things, of earth, of life.”
For those of you who don’t already know, this was a HIGHLY anticipated film that was set to have its world premiere at South by Southwest on March 16, 2020, followed by a theatrical release on May 29, 2020, which of course was all halted and shut down due to the COVID 19 Pandemic.
During that time, director David Lowry decided to actually re-edit the whole film, when he apparently slowed down the pace and made the film much “weirder” which actually makes a lot of sense, because instead of feeling like we blast through an epic medieval drama, this film feels much more like a somber reflection and mystical adventure – a more contemplative experience to fit the mood of coming off such a slowed down year.
One might even say the Green Knight was delayed “one year hence.”
The film is told through these sort of episodic vignettes. The costumes are fantastic, gritty and detailed. It’s a very a24 film – unique, bizarre and unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, but feels completely dizzying and masterful on-screen.
This episodes guest is REBA HAYES, who can be found at @rebalikethesinger on Instagram.
Further reading/episode sources:
The Ringer-Verse “The Green Knight” Exit-Survey:
NPR The Green Knight episode:
Next Best Picture Podcast:
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight original poem: Audiobook version read by Simon Armitage (as mentioned in the episode)