The Green Knight Reflection

I think The Green Knight is a contemporary take of the original poem that strips away the ideas of chivalric romance. There are a lot of layers to this story and a lot is left to interpretation, but I think some main themes that have this modern twist are courage, what it means to be a knight/honorable, accepting death and nature, and overall a sort of coming of age story about greatness vs goodness. 

We meet Gawain in the beginning of the film waking up in a brothel after a long night of drinking. Instead of the virtuous knight he was in the poem, this Gawain is a young man, spoiled, immature, and unsure of himself. He is a flawed character who is more empathetic and relatable. You get the feeling that it’s time for Gawain to leave the nest, the King is getting older and if Gawain is meant to take his place he needs to grow up and challenge his beliefs. I think the Green Knight was created or summoned by his mother to give Gawain this push. 

Gawain has preconceived ideas about honor and what it is to be a knight from growing up around great knights and the King. He cares what the King and the other knights think of him, when asked about his tales he shamefully tells the King and Queen that he has none to tell. He feels like he has to prove himself, so he cuts off the Green Knight’s head when he could have landed any blow he chose. His eyes dart around to the others and he immediately turns to the King after he lands the blow, looking for approval. He is celebrated for this “honorable” act. In the year that Gawain has before he meets the Green Knight again, he doesn’t change much. Essel pretty much asks to be his lady and he can’t answer because he’s still his same immature self. She also asks about greatness and goodness, and why goodness isn’t enough. We see this in another scene with the King, he asks if it is wrong to want greatness for Gawain. 

I’m not very familiar with the original poem, but it seems like the Green Knight represents the same thing in both stories. He seems to symbolize nature and the natural cycle of life, death, and rebirth. When Gawain is talking to the lord and lady in the castle, she basically tells him that all the power built by the knights and their codes of honor and chivalry will inevitably be overtaken by nature. People reap nature, but nature will ultimately reap man. Gawain reaped from the Green Knight by cutting off his head, and the Green Knight will inevitably reap back. Maybe they didn’t have to put a modern spin on this theme, but it’s emphasized a lot in the film.

Gawain sets out on his journey unchanged, not really knowing what his intentions are. First he passes the battlefield where we see the flaws with their ideas of chivalry and honor. The land is destroyed by Arthur’s knights. Gawain carries on, where he’s ungenerous with the scavenger, asks for a reward from Winnifred, and is seduced by the lady and lies to the lord about it. We get the sense that Gawain still doesn’t know the intentions of his journey, but hopes that it will be a chivalric tale that brings him honor like all the knights stories he knows. The lord asks him why he’s on his journey, and Gawain doesn’t give a very confident answer when he says he wants honor.

“Honor. That is why a knight does what he does.’ ‘Are you asking me?”

Gawain arrives at the green chapel, and see’s his life if he runs away and continues living how he is. We see the cost of his greatness, he becomes king but betrays Essel, his son is killed, and his kingdom falls. He see’s this future and realizes that death and nature is inescapable, and would rather die honorably then live like a coward. He chooses goodness, and meets death with courage, his journey to this realization is complete.

Gawain in this modern telling of the story fails all his tests until the very end, his journey is failure after failure until he finally makes the right choice. The idea of having this flawed young man who makes mistakes, and then these mistakes are what lead him to finally making the right decision, instead of a chivalrous knight who is always sure of himself is a really good contemporary take.

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