The Green Knight

The Green Knight ★★★★½

A mystical and enthralling medieval coming-of-age story in which King Arthur’s overeager adult nephew learns that the world is weirder and more complicated than he ever thought possible, “The Green Knight” is an intimate epic told with the self-conviction that its hero struggles to find at every turn. Stoned out of its mind and shot with a genre-tweaking mastery that should make John Boorman proud, it’s also the rare movie that knows exactly what it is, which is an even rarer movie that’s perfectly comfortable not knowing exactly what it is.

The surreal genius of David Lowery’s “filmed adaptation of the chivalric romance by anonymous” (to quote the on-screen text) is that it fully embraces the unresolved nature of its 14th century source material, contradictory interpretations of which have coexisted in relative harmony for more than half a millennium. Is it a paganistic tale about the fall of man, or is it a Christ-like quest about the hope for salvation? Does it bow to chivalry as a noble bulwark against man’s true nature, or does it laugh at the idea that a knight’s code would ever be a sound defense against his deeper urges? Is it a misogynistic poem about manipulative witches, or a proto-feminist ode to women’s power over men?

To all these questions and more, Lowery rousingly answers “yes!” And yet what makes “The Green Knight” grow in your mind (like moss; like rot) for days after watching it is that Lowery never equivocates at any point along Sir Gawain’s journey from the Round Table to the forest citadel where his fate awaits. Instead, he pulls tight on the tangled knots that have bound this saga to our collective imagination for so many centuries, and braids them all into a timeless fantasy about the struggle to make sense of an irreconcilable world. Hypnotic from its fiery start to its gut-punch of a finale and polished with a hint of heavy metal that makes the whole thing shimmer in the darkness like a black light poster in the basement of your friend’s parents’ house, “The Green Knight” might ride into theaters on 600 years’ worth of unsettled history, but Lowery makes it feel brand new by re-saddling it as a personal story about someone who’s just trying to become the kind of man he can live with, even if it kills him.

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