Summer has slipped quietly into autumn, and I have been remiss in not commenting about the Green Man-oriented film Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by A24 films. Since the 14th century, the poem “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” has been a subject for bards, professors, and writers to ruminate, revise, and re-create into books and film. Critics expound upon and tear apart the 2530 lines of poetry, yet the tale still remains a mystery. Critics also state that the recent A24 film “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” is a baffling and confusing story.
I was thrilled to 1) get back to the theater mid-COVID and 2) delighted to view the new film Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. My son and I were the only two attendees in the theater. The film didn’t bode well as a blockbuster. My original thought for this blog piece was to compare it to the Sean Connery version of The Sword of the Valiant.
Originally, I thought the film might be used in academia to translate the original poem. My first reaction to the film was that of several critics – it was pedantic and somewhat confusing.
As a few months have passed, I find myself still haunted by the A24 film of Sir Gawain. The film itself has exquisite cinematography. It was filmed primarily in Ireland near locations where Game of Thrones was filmed. An in-depth article on the filming locations can be found HERE.
The film portrays the folklore motif of the beheading game. This is a motif popular in medieval times.
The Green Knight’s challenge to Gawain is the most famous and clearest example of the trope called the Beheading Game, which was common in Medieval Romances. This motif can be broken down into six basic story beats, which are all found in the original text and will likely be seen in the upcoming film adaptation.
The first beat is the arrival of an outsider that proposes a challenge to the host, and typically, this individual has distinctively inhuman physical attributes. The second beat is for the challenge to be accepted by the hero of the story, while the third has the hero best the outsider by delivering the blow they’ve been challenged to hit, which usually results in a beheading. But the story doesn’t end there because the strike doesn’t kill the outsider.
The fourth beat compels the hero to travel to the home court of the outsider and become the outsider themselves. While the hero is at the court, they are challenged, which ends up being the fifth beat. At this point, they may or may not fully understand that their experiences in the strange court are tests specifically to prove their heroism. Finally, the last beat is when the hero accepts their return blow before returning to their home court.
The Beheading Game hasn’t been seen in popular media in quite some time, but if The Green Knight successfully follows in the footsteps of the story it’s based on, medieval tales could once again become a mainstay of the big screen.
Ralph Ineson portrayed the A24 Sir Gawain, and the Green Knight has an amazing Green Knight/Green Man. His portrayal of the Green Knight is everything one could hope for in the interpretation of the Green Knight. In addition to the beheading game, he portrays the continued, fascinating journey of birth, death, and rebirth. It’s the essence of the Green Man. My only question to A24 is, why does the Green Knight bleed red instead of green? That’s my only criticism of the film.
Ralph Ineson narrates an excellent explanation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight below…
As the film becomes available on streaming services and DVD, I highly recommend a viewing. Settle in for a mystical and gorgeous film experience.