The Green Knight Parent Guide
This is the polar opposite of a popcorn movie.
Parent Movie Review
Although he is better known for drinking and carousing, Gawain (Dev Patel) dreams of honor and glory as a knight in the court of his uncle, King Arthur (Sean Harris). His opportunity comes at the Christmas feast when a great green giant (Ralph Ineson) rides into the hall bearing a massive axe and proposing a game: He will submit to a single blow from any of the knights present, on the condition that next Christmas, that same knight will meet him at the Green Chapel and receive the same blow. Gawain seizes the opportunity, believing that if the mysterious giant is killed, the game will be over. To Gawain’s shock, once he has struck off the giant’s head, the headless knight simply picks it up. Then the disembodied head utters a reminder: “One year hence,” before the giant gallops from the hall astride his horse. Honor-bound to complete the game, Gawain rides into the wild to find the Green Chapel and his destiny.
Now, if you’ve never read Gawain and the Green Knight, I highly recommend it. (Tolkien’s translation is my favorite, but others can be found online – or, if you’re insane, you can read the original Middle English version.) It’s a captivating and historically fascinating poem about chivalry, honesty, honor, and other knightly virtues. Also, it has a green giant with a massive axe.
I was worried about the film adaptation since it’s not easy to explain the story to a modern audience without some understanding of the original story or medieval conventions. Thankfully, director David Lowery stayed remarkably true to the original. There are a few changes, but I think those are mostly justifiable in telling the story from a new angle. Rather than the (by modern standards) somewhat goody-goody Gawain you encounter in the poem, this Gawain is insecure, vulnerable, and more prone to error. He actually reminded me more of Shakespeare’s Henry V, which sees a turbulent young man assume a great deal of responsibility and learn the cost of honor.
So, as you may have guessed, The Green Knight is not a movie for everyone – and not for anyone under 18 years of age. This is the polar opposite of a popcorn movie. There are themes and allusions which the film all but demands you consider and explore, and if you’re not up to doing the metaphorical homework, you’re going to leave confused. The violence isn’t as frequent or graphic as it sounds, but there is rather more sex than you would have found in the original poem. Medieval manuscripts are frequently bawdy, but this is a tale of knightly virtue and chastity. Then again, Gawain has to be tested…right?
If it wasn’t already clear, I’m a big fan. I’ve written essays about Gawain before, and it’s refreshing to see so much of what I consider the core of the story represented on screen. Moreover, the cinematography is stunning, capturing both the historical style of the 14th century and the incredible fantasy elements which good Arthurian legend demands. Just make sure you’re prepared for some abstract thinking – this is a film which leaves you to draw your own conclusions.Directed by David Lowery. Starring Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, and Joel Edgerton. Running time: 125 minutes. Theatrical release July 30, 2021. Updated July 30, 2021
Watch the trailer for The Green Knight
The Green Knight
Rating & Content Info
Why is The Green Knight rated R? The Green Knight is rated R by the MPAA for violence, some sexuality and graphic nudity.
Violence: Several characters are beheaded. People are seen in a bar fight. Several skeletons and corpses are seen. A fantastical scene involves a man’s head bursting into flames. There are scenes of nightmarish imagery.
Sexual Content: There are several instances of female toplessness, both in sexual and non-sexual contexts. There are several sex scenes which do not feature nudity but are otherwise fairly graphic, including one depiction of semen. There is a scene briefly showing male buttocks.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Adults are seen drinking socially.
Page last updated July 30, 2021
The Green Knight Parents' Guide
What did chivalry mean to medieval knights? How did that influence the storytelling in Arthurian legends? How significant were knightly virtues historically?
Encyclopedia.com: Arthurian Legends
What do we know about Gawain and the Green Knight? Who wrote it, and why? What else did they write?
Wikipedia: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Poetry in Translation: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Gawain is tempted in many ways on his quest. Which of these challenges did he tackle successfully or honorably? Which do you think he failed? How does that compare to his actions in the poem? Do you think the changes between script and screen are justified? How do they change the story?
Related home video titles:
Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V is an excellent literary adaptation. For more of A24’sinteresting visual style, viewers might try The VVitch, The Lighthouse, It Comes at Night, Ex Machina, or Midsommar. Gretel and Hanselhas a similar style. Medieval films include Kingdom of Heaven, The Seventh Seal, Macbeth, and of course, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. More recent, although arguably lower quality, options include Robin Hood, The Kid Who Would Be King, and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. Child-friendly options for Arthurian legend include The Sword in the Stone and The Black Cauldron.