Over the course of the last decade, A24 has developed a stellar reputation in the industry for championing modern masterpieces by contemporary geniuses like Ari Aster and the Safdie brothers. It has acquired the distribution rights for some of the finest films made in recent years, leading many to believe that a project being picked up by A24 is an assurance of quality. Unfortunately, that is absolutely not the case with The Green Knight.
Based on the 14th-century poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, David Lowery’s latest fantasy epic is a bizarre attempt at creating a balance between the purely visual language of filmmakers like Alejandro Jodorowsky and the traditional structure of an Arthurian legend. While trying to reconcile these two elements, Lowery enters hostile territory where narrative coherence ultimately disintegrates.
Starring Dev Patel as the nephew of King Arthur, the film follows his surreal adventures after he successfully beheads a mysterious challenger called The Green Knight. Lowery constructs an intense meditation on mortality, masculinity and honour through beautifully composed images that invoke the memory of Dario Argento. However beautiful they may be, these same images seem to lose their momentum when strung together.
In an interview, Lowery said: “It is, ironically, the most adult movie I’ve ever made. I went into it thinking that my entryway into this movie was that I’ve got a classic case of Peter Pan syndrome. I don’t want to grow up. Who does? And I thought that was what was going to appeal to me about it, but in making it, in writing it, and now directing it and seeing it come to life, I’ve realised that this is a movie about me letting go of that.”
The problem with The Green Knight is that it tackles too many things at once. Lowery sets out to deconstruct the archetype of the Christmas film by trying to formulate an aesthetic framework for mysticism which invariably alludes to the Pagan origins of the festival. With subtextual commentaries on ecocriticism, homoeroticism and a healthy indulgence in allegories of power, lust and destiny, The Green Knight ends up as a collection of tangential discourses.
More than anything else, The Green Knight follows the absurd logic of dreams. We encounter talking foxes, silent giants, unsettling ghosts and alternative realities, presented through gorgeous stylisations but lacking in substance. Due to this oversaturation of symbolism, the potentially powerful meditative experiences become pointless, and the film itself transforms into nothing more than a futile exercise in mythopoeia.
Lowery displays a Godardian obsession with inter-titles, fashions the spiritual journey of Sir Gawain after the quest of Willard in Apocalypse Now, and borrows the ending from The Last Temptation of Christ. The Green Knight could have been a cinematic extension of the arguments put forth by anthropologist Ernest Becker in his book The Denial of Death, but, instead, it devolves into a self-indulgent, hallucinatory spectacle that is painfully banal.