August 13, 2021 – Being unfamiliar with the 14th-century tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, other than a reference to it in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” I found this 2021 movie based on that story to be very strange and surrealistic.
The story is like a game, a dream, or a nightmare, with an ambiguous ending like many trendy “art films,” preceded by a lengthy flash-forward sequence. I advise you to at least read the Wikipedia synopsis of the story before seeing this movie. It will make a lot more sense to you if you do.
Sir Gawain (played by Dev Patel of “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”) a nephew of King Arthur (played by Sean Harris of “Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation”) is a young knight eager to prove himself. He gets his chance at a Camelot Christmas party when The Green Knight a mysterious green giant crashes the party and challenges the Knights of the Round Table to a game.
The Green Knight (Ralph Ineson of “Guardians of the Galaxy”) offers to let any knight strike him. In return, he will be allowed to strike that knight a return blow in one year's time. Gawain accepts the challenge. Using the legendary sword Excaliber, he cuts off the Green Knight's head with a single blow.
But the game is not over. The Green Knight is not dead. He picks up his head, and leaves the castle, but not before the severed head informs Gawain that in one year's time he expects him to show up at the Green Chapel, about a week's ride from Camelot, where the Green Knight will get to strike Gawain with his axe.
Trickery is afoot, as indicated in scenes where witchcraft is being used to set up this beheading game. Gawain is game, and after one year of partying, brooding and consorting with his main squeeze, Essel (Alicia Vikander of “Tomb Raider”) Gawain departs Camelot to face his fate with the Green Knight.
Along the way to the Green Chapel, Gawain encounters a band of deceitful, vicious thieves as well as the ghost of Saint Winifred (Erin Kellyman of “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” miniseries). Near the Green Chapel, he encounters a castle inhabited by some very strange people, including a Lord and Lady (Joel Edgerton of “Loving” and Alicia Vikander) and an old blind woman (Helena Browne) who, according to legend, is actually the sorceress Morgan le Fay.
He stays at the castle, the guest of the Lord and Lady, to recover his strength, before continuing on to the Green Chapel. While there, he is tempted by the lady, But Gawain resists these temptations for the most part, except for his decision to secretly keep the gift of a green sash which is supposed to have magical powers. This sash figures into the movie's ambiguous climax.
Gawain is a brave and honorable knight, but is he really brave enough to let the Green Knight chop off his head? Thanks to a lengthy flash-forward near the end of the film, Gawain seems to have it both ways, both running away, dishonoring himself, and also bravely staying to fulfill his part of the bargain with the Green Knight.
In the flash forward scenes, Gawain seems to forsee his future as man who rules a kingdom under false pretenses, but the stain of his dishonor leads to his eventual downfall. This flash forward scene expresses an idea similar to the philosophy of karma.
If the old ideas of chivalry, romanticism and honor remain in our society, they are greatly weakened. Nowadays dishonorable leaders are admired and followed. Karma is a nice idea, but life seldom works out that way. Hence, this film doesn't seem relevant. It seems to be more of an exercise in form.
Although this film seems to tell a story which is mostly an irrelevant fossil from the past, it is an artful one, with good performances and high production values. To the extent it still reflects relevant human values (or, more to the point, to the extent that it reflects human values as they ought to be) it rates a C+.
Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff (no extra charges apply). I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.