David Lowery’s THE GREEN KNIGHT: a bit of a hole

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The big reveal of the fourteenth-century Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is that Morgan le Fey has concocted the whole masquerade of greenness and beheading to frighten Guinevere to death. In the poem’s final section, the Green Knight, now revealed as Gawain’s recent host, Bertilak de Hautdesert, tells him this, but only after another reveal, namely, that Bertilak himself had put his wife up to trying to seduce Gawain. Complicated!

David Lowery’s The Green Knight omits these explanations, and, moreover, simplifies the family relationships to the point where the narrative logic flags. For in the film, the ritual that brings Bertilak as the Green Knight to Arthur’s court is enacted not by Morgan — Gawain’s aunt, and Arthur’s half-sister — but by Gawain’s mother, named Morgause in some Arthurian stories, but unnamed in Lowery’s film.[1]I’ve been told that the credits call Gawain’s mother Morgan, which means that Morgan’s been moved from Castle Bertilak to Camelot. I don’t recall, however, that she’s … Continue reading Why she does this is unclear (and indeed, why Morgan does what she does in the original poem is similarly unclear): but in the film, we know, at any rate, nearly from the beginning, that Gawain’s mother is responsible.

At Castle Bertilak, as in the poem, Gawain meets a hearty male host, his beautiful wife, and an old woman, here blindfolded and, as in the poem, given no lines. Could she be Morgan? Has Gawain, in the film as in the poem, failed to recognize his aunt? Possible!

But unless the old woman is also responsible for sending Bertilak-as-Green-Knight to Arthur’s court to frighten Guinevere, the connection between Castle Bertilak and the goings-on at Camelot has gone a bit slack. The person responsible for the plot is back in Arthur’s court; Castle Bertilak is just where the Green Knight and the Sexy Lady B live, along with an ominous blindfolded old woman, but we’ve lost the neatness of having everyone responsible for the weird plot in the same spot, and lost, as well, Gawain’s anger at finding out his family — for reasons perhaps incomprehensible to him — has put him up to this terrific humiliation.

It’s not that we’ve lost certainty as we move from the poem to the film. We can do no better than guess in each case why Gawain’s aunt (poem) or his mother (film) do their illusioning. But I still miss a bit of the poem’s neatness in the film, even if its neatness has, at its center, the unexplained desire of Morgan to frighten Guinevere to death, and to do it this way. But without that peculiar form of dissatisfaction, all lodged in the same place, Castle Bertilak feels incomplete and unmotivated.

References

References
1 I’ve been told that the credits call Gawain’s mother Morgan, which means that Morgan’s been moved from Castle Bertilak to Camelot. I don’t recall, however, that she’s called Morgan in the film itself. Neither is Guinevere, but there’s no possible ambiguity about the name of Arthur’s queen. Weird.
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