David Lowrey’s Mesmerizing Medieval Fantasy Epic Demands to be Seen on the Big-Screen for Refreshing Representation of Racial Minorities

by Hassan Ilahi

Racial representation is seldom seen in fantasy films set during fictional medieval centuries. Like haggard wands that’ve lost severe magic, fantastical movies have perpetuated fallacies about Middle Age centuries as white-controlled populations without diversity. For instance, HBO’s series Game of Thrones portrayed racial populations as starkly poor peasants dethroned by snow-white tyrion-iccal rulers harboring incersie-ous love affairs with daen-g-erys siblings. Contrary to popular beliefs, however, historians argue minorities weren’t commonly as maltreated as such shows suggest. In fact, black knight Sir Morien’s evidence implies diversity existed in medieval cultures. In all fairness, fantasy series based on fictionalized books are intended as entertainment rather than enlightening history education. Nonetheless, these shows tarnish perceptions of medieval history. Why, then, is inclusivity always covered underneath uns-pott-ed invisibility cloaks in medieval movies?

In a genre decapitated by diversity scarcity, David Lowery’s latest film The Green Knight jousts crowning fights to prove anyone can achieve knighthood even if they aren’t white-skinned. An absorbing, old-fashioned and surreal adaptation, it chivalrously addresses diversity by crowning minorities in white supremacy centuries. With his sixth feature, Lowery dethrones medieval myths through color-blind casting. Packed with gorgeous cinematography, symbolic production and phenomenal performances, it’s an astonishing adaptation. Although The Green Knight is undeniably unforgettable, ultimately it isn’t flawless. It’s ponderously paced, and undermined by head-scatching conclusion without resolution. Nonetheless, it offers spellbinding entertainment that’ll satisfy folktale’s fanbase.

Based on Arthurian mythology, The Green Knight follows a knight whose foolhardy courage leads him on adventurous journeys toward chivalry glory. Dev Patel stars in the lead role as Sir Gawain, an immature nephew seeking to absolve sins through knighthood. When his character’s tested by an enigmatic green creature, Gawain strives to prove himself. However, what seem like simple quests turn stressful when Gawain encounters temptations. As Gawain succumbs, he questions whether honor’s attainable.

Writer/director David Lowery has always been fascinated with the fantasy genre’s magic. Ever since he accomplished critical recognition with 2017’s A Ghost Story, Lowery has excelled at blending fantasy with reality. His 2017 award-winning film A Ghost Story offered supernatural portrayal of a grief-stricken widow haunted by her husband’s white-sheeted ghosts following his death. With The Green Knight, however, Lowery has created his first folktale literature adaptation. It’s the filmmaker’s first attempt to reinterpret centuries-old Arthurian literature from ethnic encompassing perspective, but he pulls it off adeptly. Using captivating cinematography, Lowery draws viewers into a noble knight’s mission to conquer chivalry during Middle Ages. Working alongside cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo, Lowery expertly uses forced perspective photography to signal Gawain’s vulnerability amid colossal world. Inspired by Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Lowery skillfully uses forced perspective shots to convey Gawain’s notable smallness in far-reaching surrounding. Like Frodo Baggins’ dwarfed size in Middle Earth, Gawain’s often eclipsed by huge medieval backdrops. It gives Gawain’s ant-like appearance among giant-like settings, portraying his powerless poem position. Lowery excels at reinterpreting poetry, and his latest film is worth watching in theaters for this reason alone.

If timeless tales of medieval knights do not attract your attention, though, there are still plenty of other reasons to see The Green Knight. Lowery excels at reinterpreting Arthurian literature’s complicated symbolism through meaningful production design. When adapting legendary literature to big-screen, filmmakers often avoid interpreting complicated symbolism under assumptions that it’s beyond viewers’ comprehension. Fortunately, however, that’s certainly not the problem with The Green Knight. Lowery sensibly respects viewers’ intelligence through utilizing read-between-lines symbolism. For example, Gawain’s green-hued stash demonstrates sexual temptation he must overcome to achieve knighthood in the scene where he experiences a short-term tryst. In this jaw-dropping scene, Gawain’s chided by his lover for smearing his green girdle during sex. It’s hard to not admire green-colored backdrops that convey Gawain’s deplorable sexual temptations. Symbolizing similar connotations as Harry Potter’s lightning scar, Gawain’s spoilt belt indicates both curse and blessing he must bear forever. Through this smart symbolism, Lowrey crafts a multi-layered knight viewers identify with notwithstanding race. Furthermore, Malgosia Turzanska’s costumes deserve recognition. Emulating Maximus’ wardrobe in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, Gawain’s varying outfits illustrate his transformation from immature nephew into courageous knight. Through phenomenal production values, Lowery creates medieval movie-magic.

One can’t overlook outstanding performances.

Dev Patel delivers one of the greatest performances of his career as Sir Gawain. Patel achieved recognition for playing impoverished orphans seeking prosperity in period pieces (ex. 2007’s Slumdog Millionaire). With The Green Knight, however, he takes on his most color-blind role to date. It’s not easy to portray renowned knights in legendary literature. However, Patel pulls it off admirably. Mimicing Heath Ledger in Brian Helgeland’s A Knight’s Tale, Patel capitalizes on his boy-of-wonder charisma to craft an inspirational brown knight. With mesmerizing expressions, he conveys heroism, recklessness and sexual temptation of a nephew that seeks redemption through knighthood. It’s a marvelous medieval performance.

Alicia Vikander is astonishing in double roles as two mysterious mistresses that represent sexual temptations objects for knights. It’s challenging for actresses to depict mutiple characters in movies, but Vikander pulls it off beautifully. Drawing inspiration from Kim Novak in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Vikander deftly employs minimal dialogue to discern between Gawain’s two obsessive girlfriends. Whether she’s discouraging Gawain from knightliness or calculatingly seducing him, Vikander successfully uses beguiling expressions to capture temptation. It’s a phenomenal performance from Sweden’s ingénue.

The final standout is Ralph Ineson. As the emerald-colored antagonist, he summons spine-chilling suspense underneath makeup.

Despite its brilliant performances, however, it’s unfortunate The Green Knight doesn’t quite summon siriusly stupefying spells cast by most a-dumble-dored fantasy epics. Emulating folktale, the movie utilizes chapter-like title cards to signify events in Gawain’s journey. While these title-cards enhanced the folktale, they transition awkwardly to the big-screen by hindering the movie’s pacing. Due to this misjudged technique, Gawain’s episodic confrontations with scavengers aren’t always as entertaining as his knighthood journey. Furthermore, the movie suffers from a misconceived ending. Lowrey’s decision to deviate from source material by reinventing the poem’s ending is bold and unexpected, but it doesn’t entirely work. Instead of offering satisfying resolution, it provokes questions by blending fantasy and reality. Whereas this open-to-interpretation climax worked in a blockbuster like Christopher Nolan’s Inception, it clashes with literature’s meaning. Simply put, it appears designed entirely to provoke internet explanations. Due to its problematic conclusion, The Green Knight falters.

On a final note, it’s worth mentioning The Green Knight’s emerald-colored armored suits aren’t adjusted to accommodate everyone’s bodies. Unlike most swords-and-sandals medieval movies, the film requires rudimentary Arthurian knowledge for appreciation. The movie features complicated jargon, mythological references and allegories only educated Arthurian readers will grasp. Viewers that haven’t read poetry won’t appreciate the movie. Consequently, The Green Knight won’t satisfy everyone.

Ultimately, The Green Knight is a satisfactory period piece with armor that doesn’t often gleam as brightly as its superior source material. An engrossing but overambitious adaptation, it suggests racial minorities deserve recognition in fantasy films. If Cinema’s an educational medium, it’s high time Hollywood honored history by gawain-ing green minorities opportunities to be kings rather than doomed for beheading destinies to mend centuries-old misunderstandings.

Hassan’s Grade:  B+