BY MATT TUCK
The Green Knight, sporting a beautiful, arthouse aesthetic, ultimately falls flat under the weight of a painfully slow, plodding story with sidequests ad nauseam.
Independent films are generally meant to be an escape from the “theme park” experiences of the mega blockbuster releases. I appreciate the subtle nuances and focus on characterization that the indy scene presents. While The Green Knight very much fell into those categories, it could have been so much more. Instead, it is a movie that just kept going like a painfully long roleplaying game.
At the heart of the story is Gawain, the mythical King Arthur’s carefree nephew.
More so than defeating the Green Knight, Gawain’s quest is to realize his true potential and embrace what it means to be a Knight of the Round Table. In a vision of a possible future, Gawain even sees himself chosen by Arthur to succeed him as the ruler of Camelot.
While I love a good rendition of Joseph Campbell’s "The Hero’s Journey," the story was just so slow. During the movie, I found myself checking my watch and being dismayed that the movie was only halfway through.
One after another, Gawain had numerous sidequests. Following Campbell’s framework, each mission is meant to teach the hero something new in order for him to learn and grow before he can complete his adventure. I get it. About an hour and a half into the movie, those sidequests seemed an awful lot like filler.
In that regard, The Green Knight got the full Hobbit treatment.
Here you have filmmakers who over expand on the source material. In the case of the Hobbit, the plot of a single book was dragged out and manipulated into a nearly nine-hour epic that made Bilbo’s whimsical adventure a would-be Lord of the Rings, which the book was never intended to be.
The same can be said for The Green Knight. True, the original 14th Century poem alludes to adventures along Gawain’s journey, but they are not fleshed out, leaving plenty for the filmmakers to interpret. The trouble is, the added mini-adventures and labors took too much time away from the central story. As a viewer, watching the many sidequests becomes a chore in itself.
At the core of the story, we have Gawain (whom King Arthur repeatedly pronounced “Garwin” for some reason). He is less the protagonist from “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” and more akin to Hal from William Shakespeare’s Henry V, which was likely on purpose.
Gawain is a drunken, immature would-be knight, enjoying a life of privilege by spending his nights drinking at a brothel. While at the mythic Round Table, King Arthur calls Gawain to sit beside him, and we learn that Gawain is Arthur’s nephew and the chosen heir of Camelot’s throne.
As the Green Knight enters the king’s hall, we are led to believe he has conjured by Gawain’s mother, the infamous sorceress Morgan Le Fay. Following the source material, the Green Knight challenges any one of the Knights of the Round Table (they dance whene’er they’re able, I suppose) to strike a blow against him. In a year and one day, that knight will come to the Green Chapel, where the Green Knight will strike a blow of his own against his attacker. (They could have played chess, but that would have been too easy.)
Without much source material to fill in the gaps on the way to the chapel, things get muddled and confusing. The filmmakers appear to have been aiming for an arthouse motion picture, filled to the brim with head-scratching directorial choices that are meant to be symbolic. The trouble with The Green Knight is that there is so much awkward symbolism that it becomes congested and loses the viewer. I understand that in true King Arthur tradition, there are ample metaphors and symbolism to dissect. In Holy Grail fashion, The Green Knight itself becomes an enigma for the audience, leading viewers on an unattainable quest to understand why there are howling, naked giants strolling about the Medieval European countryside.
By far, the highlight of the movie is the titular Green Knight. Refreshingly made of practical effects and prosthetics, he looks like a combination of LOTR’s Treebeard and Guardians of the Galaxy’s Groot. Staying true to the original poem, he embodies the wild, untamed forces of nature by his very presence.
Second to the Green Knight’s costume and effects was the film’s stellar cinematography. Despite the movie’s dreadfully slow pacing, the landscapes were beautiful and enchanting and captured superbly on the movie screen.
In the end, neither was enough to rescue The Green Knight from a slow and tedious pace.
Matt Tuck is the author of the novel, Lost Bones of the Dead. He is a professional writer, avid comic collector, former teacher, and an international man of mystery. You can follow him on his Facebook page, The Comic Blog.