Features and Columns · Movies

Time, Mossy Bones, and the Main Theme of ‘The Green Knight’ Explained

Why is he a GREEN knight, anyway? And what was with that really slow, rotating mid-film pan?
The Green Knight
By  · Published on October 8th, 2021

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay explaining the theme of time in The Green Knight.

Around the midway point of David Lowery‘s The Green Knight, bandits ambush our hero in a clearing. As he lies bound and gagged, the camera slowly, pensively turns in a circle. The seasons change, and birdsong soon gives way to the ominous buzz of flies. The character has rotted away, leaving nothing but bones caressed gently in springy moss. If the film has a thesis, this is it.

So what is Lowery trying to tell us?

The Green Knight is an adaptation of a late 14th-century chivalric poem that has trickled down through the ages as one of the better-known Arthurian legends. The story is a morbid amalgam of two folk motifs: a beheading game and the exchange of reward. A Knight of the Round Table, Sir Gawain (played in Lowery’s film by Dev Patel), accepts a challenge from the titular figure (Ralph Ineson). Whoever dares to strike The Green Knight with his ax, the blow will be returned in a year’s time. Gawain beheads the mysterious creature, who then picks up his head and reminds Gawain that they will meet again.

Unlike the vast majority of its cinematic peers, Lowery’s take on Arthurian myth leans harder into metaphor. And while numerous thematic webs entangle Gawain in the film, its central interest ultimately boils down to one question: why is the Green Knight green? Why would a harbinger of death share a color with verdancy and rebirth?

As the video essay below explains, the result is a powerful, and inconvenient interplay between time, life, death, and inevitability. And in the end, that is not something you can — let alone should — escape.

Watch “What The Green Knight Wants You To Think About”:

Who made this?

This video essay on the theme of time in The Green Knight is by Virginia-based filmmaker and video editor Thomas Flight. He runs a YouTube channel under the same name. You can follow Thomas Flight and check out his back catalog of video essays on YouTube here. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).