Editorial

The Green Knight

What You Need To Know About The Green Knight And Sir Gawain-Trailer Spoilers And Theories

A24’s The Green Knight dropped its first trailer today and it will be pure Arthurian fantasy with a side of horror.

A24 is at it again. If Ari Aster’s Midsommar wasn’t folklore enough for you, The Green Knight will be. Based on King Arthur and his Knights of the Roundtable legends, The Green Knight is the most enigmatic of all the Arthurian characters. Part morality fable, part depressing finality, the tale boils the human condition down into one succinct truth. We are all flawed. It does allow for some positivity however as free will allows for honesty and virtue to shine through in those pure enough. The trailer seems to indicate Sir Gawain is deeply fearful for good reason. Here’s all you need to know ahead of David Lowery’s movie due out May 24th, 2020.

The Green Knight known for his green clothes and skin first appeared in the 14th century, in a poem titled Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. This short poem penned by the Pearl Poet portrays the mysterious character as immortal or at the very least magical. Sir Gawain steps into King Arthur’s place and is tested by the Knight. He goes through a series of trials that he must complete to be spared.

The final act of the poem is a test of Gawain’s courage when he must present his neck for beheading three times. After doing so the Green Knight reveals everything that happened in his journey to The Green Chapel was all a test and he was found virtuous. The Knight also appeared in The Greene Knight, and King Arthur and King Cornwell. In each story, he is described as a tester of virtue. He was tasked with this job and embued with magic by Morgan le Fay in only Sir Gawain. In the others, his magical origins are murkier.

In future stories, he is traditionally an ally of Arthur’s, if somewhat terrifying one. He frequently disguises himself to perform the trials. Elaborate honey pot schemes factor in. The Green Knight appears in early texts from Arabic to Sicilian to name just a few. The poem is the only instance in English text where the character has green skin but an early Islamic tale in the Quoran features a green-hued character called the Green Man. He was turned green by being the only person to ever have drunk from the water of life. In the Quoran and Sir Gawain, the Green Knight tests honorable men, Moses and Gawain respectfully.

The Camelot tales are big into chivalry and honor above all else. The Knight’s purpose is to test the strength of that honor. Sir Gawain is a loyal and valued knight. He always is a heroic figure who is strong, courageous, and honest. Gawain is human however and has a fierce desire to live that on one occasion causes him to conceal a girdle(think belt) that gives the wearer invisibility. He confesses his sin to the King and says he will wear the girdle the remainder of his life as a symbol that our failings are not erased just because they are hidden. All of Camelot chooses to adopt the symbol as a sign that to admit your flaws and be humble is as important as not doing something wrong, to begin with.

No one knows exactly why the Knight is green. As the powerful knight seems to be immortal it is likely a nod to nature and the cycle of life. The unbridled power of the natural world coupled with the ability to regenerate makes the knight dangerous. The Devil is often portrayed as green in early British writings and artwork. With the Knights’s undeniable supernatural qualities, he could be seen as devilish or at the very least chaotic. Additionally, the Celts avoided green clothing because it was thought to be bad luck. The Knight is often depicted as being clothed in green with gold embellishments and having a wild beard. This description would allow him to embody both “the green man” of vitality and “the wild man” of anarchy.

With A24’s penchant for atmospheric horror, I expect big things from The Green Knight. David Lowery who wrote and directed this retelling of the Arthurian legend also wrote the beautiful A Ghost Story. That haunting film manages to float in a space somewhere between horror and fantasy that achieves both. Magical realism has had a real resurgence lately. Combining reality with magic and fantasy if done right creates a world just adjacent to our own filled with amazing people and things. The Green Knight appears to be delivering a setting that is both familiar and deeply unsettling. The foreboding trailer is heavy on teeth jarring sound work reminiscent of last year’s wildly trippy Hagazussa.

The trailer shows puppet shows that come to life, spontaneous combustion, and mystical tarot cards. The teaser is intense. It is full of creepiness and stark imagery. In between all, the sinister red lettering and skulls there are bread crumbs everywhere to the type of story this will be. The moral of the story is the inescapable duality of humanity. We are capable of great good and evil just as Gawain is.

The tarot card shown in the trailer features a half-man/half-beast holding a blue mask. Depending on which tarot deck this is from this could be an iteration of The Devil or The Empress. The Green Knight is frequently compared to the Devil and The Empress is the card for duality and new beginnings. Depending on if the cards are played upright or reversed as in the case of the trailer they have different meanings. In the case of the trailer, they mean either the person being read is about to break free from negativity as in The Devil or in The Fool they are about to embark on foolhardy behavior.

Most of the characters shown sport hollowed eyes with deep shadows underneath. Who or what has caused so many sleepless nights? In the original story, the knight roams the countryside testing all he encounters. Most fail miserably and lose their life. That would certainly be enough to induce plenty of nightmares. Lord Bertilak de Hautdesert and his wife Lady Bertilak play pivotal roles in the original story. There is no mention of them in the description or character lists provided, however. The woman pictured above is Kate Dickie the Queen, not the Lady. Regardless of the Lord and Lady’s absence, there are other callbacks to the famous lore of the Green Knight.

The puppet show, in fact, details the important beheading scene in the story. The Green Knight asks Sir Gawain to strike him once and then he will reciprocate in kind. Sir Gawain swings the ax at the knight’s neck and beheads him. It does not kill the knight however and he picks his head back up and says he will return in a year and a day to do the same to Gawain. How that all-important part of the story will play out it only alluded to with giant axes and puppet beheadings for children.

The cast is amazing with Dev Patel(Slumdog Millionaire) as Gwain, Ralph Ineson(The Witch) playing The Green Knight, Alicia Vikander(Ex Machina) as Essel, Sean Harris(Possum) as King Arthur, and Joel Edgerton(The Gift). Lowery is leaning hard into moody The Lighthouse territory in tone and imagery. This will be Camelot by way of surrealism.

The knight Gawain is afraid of in this film is understandably terrifying. Patel’s voiceover throughout the trailer gives volume to his fear. Gawain should be afraid of the knight. He is a pale green stone-like creature who is large and menacing as he wields a massive green ax. That is only one of the things Gawain has to contend with on his journey. Ghosts, thieves, and giants scheme and lie their way into Sir Gawain’s life as he attempts the impossible. Like most young people he is brave to a fault and determined. He will go to any lengths to prove his metal. Courage makes Kings. Divine or royal, true or evil Gawain is on a quest of his own. The poster indicates royalty and holiness are one and the same. How far would you go to prove you are worthy?

Have your say