The motif of The Green Knight is to explore the notion that, “Why brave men always want to become great? Why is goodness not good enough?” It is Sir Gawain’s epic journey that inspects “how a narrative expedition transforms a man and brings him honor.” Is it really true that a person needs to cross dangerous land to bring about a change in himself? David Lowery answers all these peculiar queries of his protagonist through his epic drama film of the Arthurian Era.
“The Green Knight” or “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by Anonymous” (as titled on-screen) is based on a chivalric romance written by an unknown author. The term chivalric romance is often used to describe tales of heroes on a quest that tests their prowess. The plot follows similar motifs of Arthurian era stories portraying both beheading games and exchange of winnings, where a sloppy royal undertakes an adventure to attain his knightly honor.
The film encapsulates visually stunning shots captured by marvelous Andrew Droz Palermo, who accurately plays with composition, hue, and shades. The Green Knight distributed by A24, stars Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, and Joel Edgerton in prominent roles.
‘The Green Knight’ Plot Summary
In an epic fantasy opener, a mystical woman garnishes the sequences that picture Sir Gawain on a throne. A crown floats down on his head as a voice reminds the audience of a legendary Arthur and his countless stories. The voice quickly clarifies that this tale is not about the boy who pulled a sword from the stone. It is a new fable that brandishes Sir Gawain of the Arthurian Era.
Gawain is a laid-back young man who spends his nights in a brothel with his lover, commoner Essel. He is still not a knight yet, but he hardly cares. Gawain returns to Camelot and gets scolded by his mother, Morgan le Fay, for having an airy attitude. Yet, Gawain’s son whom she holds near and dear.
Gawain attends the Christmas feast at uncle King Arthur’s round table in the company of brave knights. Arthur inquires Gawain of his legendary acts, but he has none to share. The stance belittles Gawain’s demeanor. A parallel sequence depicts Morgan le Fay along with other women performing a magical ritual. As their ritual concludes, Morgan seals a letter and burns it after that.
Suddenly, a mysterious Green Knight anatomically built of branches barges into Arthur’s round table. He challenges the brave Knight of King Arthur for “the Christmas game” and hands a letter (written by Morgan) conveying the challenge’s rules.
“Let whichever of your knights is boldest of blood and wildest of heart step forth, take up arms, and try with honor to land a blow against me. Whomsoever nick me shall claim to my ax. But the champ must bind himself to this: in one year and a day hence, he must seek me out yonder to the Green Chapel. He shall find me there and bend the knee and let me strike in return. Be it a scratch on the cheek or a cut on the throat.”
Arthur’s band of knights fear the terrifying creature, and thus Arthur decides to face the Green Knight himself. For Gawain, it is a moment to prove his mettle and gain his knighthood, and thus he takes Excalibur from Arthur and faces the Knight. However, The Green Knight doesn’t attack him and instead kneels to let Gawain slash his head. Gawain earns the victory, and The Green Knight’s body picks the head and reminds him to meet a year after.
The year vapors quickly, and Gawain spends it in leisure. As Christmas approaches, Arthur reminds Gawain of his covenant. Gawain suits up for the adventures that lay ahead that will decide his fate and bring him his desired honor.
Who summoned the Green Knight?
Gawain’s mother and Arthur’s step-sister, Morgan le Fay, summoned the creature because she wanted her son to inherit the throne after Arthur. She intended to test Arthur’s Knight and their courage. The whole magical orchestra was designed to frighten the kingship to death. But when Gawain stepped in, the bravery got Morgan worried.
When Gawain decided to complete the Christmas challenge, Morgan felt helpless. Thus, before leaving, she weaved a magical circular girdle-turned-sash that would protect him from all physical harm until it was bound around his waist.
However, For Gawain, the chivalric romance was set in motion to gain his honor, bravery, and greatness. But was that honor of any worth that was achieved through evil means like Dark Magic? To prove the notion, The Green Knight ending spreads into two possible outcomes:
- Gawain ran away from the Green Knight, keeping the sash bound around his waist forever.
- Gawain courageously faced the outcome and bravely finished the challenge.
The Mysterious Castle
After facing intimating obstacles on his hero’s journey, Gawain reached an isolated castle inhabited by a Lord (Joel Edgerton), Essel and the Lady (Alicia Vikander), and a Blind Queen dressed in all white. The Lord informed Gawain that the Green Chapel was not from the castle and he could rest until Christmas day and be their guest.
The castle threw its eeriness at Gawain, who failed to decipher much of it. While the Lord was away, the lady tried to seduce Gawain. He tried hard his best to avoid adultery. On the second night, Lord sought a bargain from Gawain. Lord would give Gawain whatever the forest would offer on the hunt, and in exchange, Gawain had to give him whatever he might receive in the castle.
The mystery around this eerie exchange was answered in the end. Lady gave back Gawain’s magical sash, and he ran out of the castle in panic. In the forest, he met the Lord, who reminded Gawain of his promise. Lord gifted Gaiwan the magical fox (Gawain’s companion throughout). Gawain thought Lord would ask him for a sash, his only shield against the Green Knight. But instead, Lord kissed Gawain, which was a symbolic gesture to take away Gawain’s kiss to his wife.
Another noticeable mystery in the castle was the Blind Woman dressed in white. It was Gawain’s mother, Morgan le Fay, who gave the lady the sash so that she could protect her son from all physical harm. Throughout the journey, Morgan had been keeping a close eye to safeguard her lad.
The Green Knight Ending, Explained
To be or not to be, that is the question? Gawain’s salient companion, the foxy fox, suddenly spoked up in the last part of the act. He warned Gawain of the danger ahead and thus persuaded him to turn away happily with his head held high. Morgan used the exact phrase, and hence, it could be summarized that she set the whole adventure to trap Arthur and his knights. But eventually, Gawain took the bait. What lay ahead was a series of attempts to push back Gawain so that he would return and end his legend the way he saw fit. But Gawain showed a moment of courage and crossed the stream to reach the Green Chapel to face the nemesis finally.
Bravery is in the choices one makes. Gawain surrendered the ax and waited for Green Knight to wake up. He finally came to his senses on 26th December, a day after Christmas as promised. Gawain knelt before the Knight to complete his agreement. Before the Knight could strike his blow, Gawain ran out of the chapel in fear.
What followed ahead was a narrative centering on an honorless knight who got what he desired, but he knew that nothing of it was true. Gawain succeeded Arthur and became the king of Camelot. He betrayed Essel and married a royal queen instead. In short, Gawain did everything dishonorable out of greed and fear. In the end, he lost his son in the battle, and an attack ruined his kingdom. While sitting on his throne, Gawain pulled out the magical sash. It instantly beheaded him and took his life. He loved so dearly.
But that wasn’t the end. It was the end Gawain imagined would possibly come true if he let the Green Knight slay him with his magical sash on. Thus, he made a conscious decision and pulled it out to die with dignity and honor. The Knight was impressed by Gawain’s valor and quoted him as the Brave Knight. He spared Gawain’s life and commanded him to leave with his head.
At the castle, the Lord had put forth the question, “You’ll do this one thing, you return home a changed man, an honorable man? Just like that?” Character transformation is an integral part of Cinema or any storytelling medium. A character undergoes a transformation through a journey he partakes in.
Now, the conflict of the adventure could be both external or internal; thus, its flagbearer could either be changed psychologically or physically. In Sir Gawain’s case, what he grasped was an honor, and it could have been won at home or on a hunt whatsoever. But, the journey is just the vessel. What matters more is the man/woman inside it.
‘The Green Knight’ Post Credit Scene
In the post-credit scene, a young girl picks up the crown and wears it. In the end possibility, Gawain and Essel become the parents of this young girl. She will be the next ruler of Camelot, shaking down the established order. In the fable of the future, a woman will lead Camelot.
The Green Knight is a 2021 Epic Period Drama film written, edited, directed, and produced by David Lowery.