Screen Time

Watching The Green Knight and Nine Days on the big screen

Both movies made me grateful for directors with risky, new visions—and the space to enjoy them.

I  didn’t realize how much I had been craving space in my watching experiences until I found myself skipping work to watch movies in a movie theater on back-to-back mornings. It wasn’t just the space of being in a movie theater—though 10 a.m. on a Tuesday gave me most of the theater to myself—but the spaciousness of the medium itself. I chose sprawling, ambitious movies that made me grateful for directors with risky visions, even if they don’t always work out.

The Green Knight (directed by David Lowery) is a loose adaptation of the anonymous 14th-century chivalric poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. It wrestles with deep cultural mythology about heroes, legends, virtue, and honor. As in the original poem, on Christmas night in King Arthur’s court, a mysterious knight arrives unbidden and challenges anyone present to a game, the rules of which are simple: the challenger may strike the Green Knight one blow if a year later he will come to the Green Chapel to receive the same blow himself. Gawain (played by Dev Patel), young and headstrong and defending a sense of honor he’s never really tested, decapitates the Green Knight and spends the rest of the year facing the prospect of receiving the same blow in kind.

Even before he sets out to find the Green Chapel, Gawain sees his story performed in pantomime and dreams of the final song that will be sung about his deeds. Whether he is worthy of a song—and whether it even matters if he does the things sung about—is the central preoccupation of the film. Gawain is obsessed with his knightly virtue, but perhaps less so with actually being virtuous. Given how chivalric ideals about heroic greatness still permeate our popular tales (of adventure broadly and of masculinity most explicitly), the film challenges a cultural assumption that greatness makes up for a lack of goodness.