I try not to use the term "visionary" to describe most filmmakers, especially nowadays. Not only because filmmaking is such a collaborative endeavor, but because the high cost of production tends to bring in the bean-counters and squelch the more idiosyncratic visions. Still, even in these safe corporate times, a few genuine visionaries are still creating distinctive, meaningful, artistic work. With twenty years and seven features now under his belt, writer/director/editor David Lowery certainly qualifies.
Of said seven features, I have only seen A Ghost Story, the surprisingly thoughtful remake of Pete's Dragon, and now The Green Knight. All three are radically different in terms of budget, scope, and subject matter, yet they clearly stem from the same artistic temperament – one fascinated by myth and unafraid of mystery.
The Green Knight is a relatively faithful adaptation of the Medieval legend of Sir Gawain (played by Dev Patel), nephew of King Arthur. It opens with the titular character, a giant earthen monster of a man, interrupting a Christmas feast at Camelot. Standing before King Arthur, Queen Guinevere, and the Knights of the Round Table, the Green Knight makes a challenge: anyone brave enough to strike him in battle here must receive a wound in kind one year hence. To his own surprise, the shiftless Gawain steps forward, takes Arthur's sword Excalibur, and beheads him. Three cheers for him – and then the Green Knight picks up his own laughing head and gallops away on his horse. Gawain must now accept the fate that awaits him.
The fact that all this unfurls without the dialogue once name-checking Camelot, Arthur, Guinevere, or Excalibur says a lot about Lowery's show-don't-tell approach. (Though I do appreciate Gawain's name being spoken aloud, informing me that it is properly pronounced "GOW-in" and not "guh-WAIN".) The Green Knight celebrates the inexplicable; no one will be spelling anything out for you here. So as Gawain departs the following December on his date with destiny, his encounters and experiences along the way are not so much plot points as existential ruminations.
Patel has already proven himself a credible leading man, and he is gifted with a face that can project fear, wonder, and determination without the actor having to resort to over-emoting. He is joined by an enviable cast that includes Alicia Vikander in two very different roles, Joel Edgerton, Sarita Choudhury, Sean Harris, and the inherently scary young Irish actor Barry Keoghan. I must also laud both cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo and composer Daniel Hart, whose work enhances Lowery's dreamlike fantasy.
Slow-moving and inscrutable, The Green Knight is not for all tastes. But I think it is a work of art and would recommend it without hesitation.