The movie 'The Green Knight'

I saw this movie months ago and enjoyed it as a philosophical exploration of character, as in “this person displayed real character.” Last night I randomly happened upon a youtube interpretation of the movie and it hit me that it seemed to espouse a view of existence with many parallels to the Buddhist description of existence. I rewatched the movie and keeping that person’s interpretation in mind really made me feel that’s more true than I initially thought.

Something this person emphasized that I haven’t seen many reviewers mention is the “Green” in the title and the description of the Green Knight’s ‘personification’ is to do with the relationship between rot and life. Rot is the breeding ground of more life. Life and death are inseparable in that way, let alone in the more obvious requirement of death after life. The main character’s journey is one from someone bullied by their own weaknesses and assumptions about what a “proper” life is, to someone who truly let’s go in what I can’t help but see is extremely analogous to Buddhist “letting go.”

If you haven’t seen it and don’t mind spoilers, the main character aspires to a storybook greatness and legend like the knights of King Arthur’s court (him being a contemporary and relative of Arthur.) He gets himself ensnared in a situation where everybody knows he has to willingly and bravely give his life. He embarks on this quest obviously with the hope and belief that he can “fake” his way to it. At the end of the journey when he seemingly willingly goes to his death after illustrating many times that he’s not actually prepared, at the last moment he cowers away and says this line that has just bounced around my mind all night last night and all day today. “Is this really all there is?” He was so certain that making a show of willingness to give his life is what bravery is that he couldn’t comprehend the Green Knight’s answer. “What else ought there be?”

The obvious answer, and the one he does come to, is that clinging to ideas about righteousness is not righteousness. Actual righteousness and bravery and acceptance of the relationship between the eternal cycle of rot and life, and the inevitable disappearance of all evidence of ourselves except as a breeding ground for the actions and ‘future history’ of others, can only be truly embraced and overcome through letting go. I can’t help but see that the writer is saying that letting go of the self is the only proper way to achieve the ‘goals’ that self claims to seek, i.e. freedom from ignorant compulsion to be what is proper.

I don’t think the writer/director is Buddhist or set out to espouse Buddhist philosophy, but I think in his (what I consider) beautiful attempt at understanding our position, couldn’t help but align with it, just because the Buddha (again in my and probably your opinion) couldn’t help but come to the right conclusion because of the purity of his effort and the ‘breeding ground’ of his person that was his Kamma.

I am far from a literary critic type so I’m sure people more practiced in that can see some issues in how I’m approaching this but I am very curious to hear the thoughts of anybody else who saw this movie and whether you think its statements share any similarities with Buddhism. If you don’t necessarily care to see it but have an opinion on my interpretation of it, I’d like to hear that as well.


I look forward to seeing it. Until then;

I think the exploration is valuable with both meanings of “character.” Our character (role) employs fabrication of a self of an increasingly purified (moral) character… As one might fabricate a raft which can be discarded after the crossing the river.

Im guessing both the compulsion and the ignorance fade as the path is traveled gradually.

It sounds like the tragedy here is his sense of being “bullied by… weaknesses and assumptions” rather than being at peace with “fake it till we make it.” To tell myself, “BE kind (brave, or unattached)” is futile as I AM not. Through restraint of body, speech, and mind, and other practices I can train however.

“Everybody’s seen the things they’ve seen
We all have to live with what we’ve been
When they say charity begins at home, they’re not just talking 'bout a toilet and a telephone”

Nice analysis! As always I’m wondering whether we find a similar narrative in the jatakas, hmm.

I don’t think there are likely to be any close parallels in the Jātakas, since beheading games are chiefly a Celtic motif rather than a pan-Indo-European one.

On the other hand, there may be more distant parallels in the various testing games involving Indra, like the self-immolating rabbit of the Sasa Jātaka, Ja316, and the eye-donating king of the Sivi Jātaka, Ja499.


It’s a pretty great movie with a fantastic cast. Also how nice to see it comes from the movie bucks available through the Canada-Ireland joint production agreement we have (or had, haven’t checked into it lately). I will appropriate the well known stamp on Canadian cinema as predominantly queer for us with this movie, even though the director is American.

As for the American stamp on it, it reminds me of Scorsese’s Last Temptation of Christ. I also found it Shakespearean, along the lines of MacBeth, with Dev Patel’s (Gawain) recognition and rejection of his mother’s influence, in the end.

I read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in a Comp Lit class I took a very long time ago, after having avoided most of that stuff on my dad’s bookshelf. He was Welsh, so I was raised on things like Mabinogian and various tales spinning off from that, including Arthurian legend. I had some problems with the ending of The Green Knight and could only find a productive reading by considering it intertextually. But that’s me.

The medieval universe was very organic and shape shifting. And the excellent weirdness of The Green Knight is faithful to this aspect of medieval romance.

As for a Buddhist mood. I would say that it is provocatively suggestive of DO.