Green Knight Disses Glory

Many stories have morals. While such morals could be stated directly, perhaps via witty aphorisms, many claim that we use stories to make our moral lessons clearer and more vivid, to show us how they are applied in concrete familiar situations. As Jesus did with his parables. Sounds helpful, right?

But then we get parables like the movie The Green Knight, which describe strange events in alien worlds, with their moral lessons encoded elusively. Elite movie reviewers love it, in part because it is based on a medieval story many of them had to study in college. For them, difficult to follow literary references, and difficult to interpret moral lessons, are part of the attraction, as viewers can show their sophistication by figuring it all out.

(There are mild spoilers in what follows; you are warned.)

Perhaps this will reveal me as an un-elite fool, but the moral lessons presented in Green Knight seems to me obvious, trite, and substantially untrue. The movie shows an ugly desolate colorless world, fill with similar people. The main exceptions are pretty young women, the orange cloak of our hero, and the matching orange fur of his fox companion. (A tapestry in the movie directly depicts our hero as like a fox hunted to allow elite glory.)

This is a world obsessed with glory. People want to hear stories of glory, to be glorious, to associate with the glorious, and to put them in positions of power. Our hero’s mother arranges for him to volunteer for a quest for glory. And due to his foolish initial choice, honestly pursuing this quest should lead our hero to his death.

For a while at least, our hero pursues this glorious quest, against a “green” knight, who clearly represents nature; in this world glory is mainly gained via killing people and nature. His quest is completely arbitrary; the only virtue he might show there is keeping his word. His life will turn out badly no matter what he does.

He is wronged by some, wrongs some, is helped by some, and helps some. He wrongs the one person he seems most happy with, a short-haired (thus modern-like) lover who warns him against his pursuit of honor instead of a life with her, asking “Why is goodness not enough?” Which seems to me the obvious moral of this story: go for ordinary simple pleasures, as glory is pointless.

But of course even if glory is pointless in this strange fictional world, that’s little reason to think it pointless in our actual world; we have many routes to glory besides murder, many of which seem truly helpful and meaningful. A fact of which the elite reviewers who loved Green Knight seem well aware, and to fervently believe. After all, what is the quest to make a movie like this, if not a quest for glory?

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