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  Sir Gawain and the green movie

18 August 2021 | Kalimac’s CornerDavid Bratman

… Nevertheless it was a gripping movie, atmospheric in the good sense as well as the stereotypical one. Not an action movie at all, but mostly quiet (this must be why so much mumbling) and, like the poem, insistently but not didacticly homiletic. Dev Patel as Gawain has to act more with facial expressions and body movement than words, and he captures the character very well. An awesome work of film-making.

As an adaptation of the poem? Some parts, like the first encounter with the Green Knight, were impressively faithful to the original. Others, like, well, pretty much the rest of the story, wandered off and didn’t always make sense.…


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Much desire among many I know to see this, tempered by reluctance to go to a movie theater in the middle of a pandemic to do so. But! I learned from Tor​.com that it was streaming online that very evening, August 10. But when I tried to buy a ticket, I was kicked off to the next showing, August 18. Which was today. Whether there will be any more, I don’t know: you could try the streaming site, though it looks to me as if there aren’t.

So I watched the movie. How was it? asked B. afterwards. It was very, very atmospheric, I said. Does that mean it was visually dark? asked my canny B. It does, I said. As unlighted as the proverbial freezing pit. And most of the actors mumbled, with such intense dedication to this arcane craft that if it weren’t for the subtitles I’d have had no idea what they were saying. (Another good reason not to see it in the theater.)

Nevertheless it was a gripping movie, atmospheric in the good sense as well as the stereotypical one. Not an action movie at all, but mostly quiet (this must be why so much mumbling) and, like the poem, insistently but not didacticly homiletic. Dev Patel as Gawain has to act more with facial expressions and body movement than words, and he captures the character very well. An awesome work of film-making.

As an adaptation of the poem? Some parts, like the first encounter with the Green Knight, were impressively faithful to the original. Others, like, well, pretty much the rest of the story, wandered off and didn’t always make sense.

I except from that, though, the middle. The poem pretty much skips over Gawain’s adventures on the way to his second encounter, rather in the manner of Bach skipping over the slow middle movement of the Third Brandenburg. So some performers just make something up to fill the gap, and so did David Lowery, who wrote and directed this movie. I can’t object to that, especially as what he adds fits the story in the way that nothing that Peter Jackson added to his movies ever did: it has the same kind of hortative moralism that the poem does.

But when we get to Bertilak’s castle, the movie acts as if it’s running out of time. The steaminess of Gawain’s days in the castle is shriveled up; the mutual gifting theme is foreshortened, making it impossible for the climactic Green Chapel scene to go the way it does in the poem. And it doesn’t. Instead there’s a gigantic wad of misdirection, the idea for which was perhaps stolen from The Last Temptation of Christ, and when that’s done with the movie ends abruptly.

Even with these strictures, it’s better than a Jackson monster, and the reimagining of the original is not a tenth as ridiculous as in the Beowulf movie. It’s a success on its own terms.

[Full text is provided here in the event that the original blog post is no longer available. If possible, please read at Kalimac's corner.]

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