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In November 2018 I read somewhere that the director David Lowery was making a film of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. I teach it regularly and had just taught it and some supporting material. In particular, an incredible essay by Geraldine Heng called “Feminine Knots and the Other Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” (originally published in PMLA, 1991) that I use every time I teach the poem. I really liked Lowery’s films and thought “what the hell,” so I emailed him and suggested he read Heng’s article, since it would open up a perspective no other reading does.
Five weeks later I received a lengthy, enthusiastic response. I was pretty floored, as I wasn’t even sure I had the right email address when I cold-emailed him.
Lowery was eager to read the Heng piece and was curious about other things a non-specialist ought to look at to have the widest possible sense of what the stakes are in the poem, its deeper resonances, etc. I’m not a medievalist, nor a bona fide SGGK scholar, but I’ve done a lot of research on the poem to teach it, and for a backburner project on Shakespeare’s history plays and the Order of the Garter Ceremony. So I recommended several things (Helen Cooper, Francis Ingledew, et al.). This led to a lively back and forth about the structure of the poem, the relationships between its characters, the romance’s subplots, and so on.
At one point I suggested that the film “Point Blank” might be an interesting way to think about how a narrative that blends past/present/future for the main character can work. Lowery responded that this was “fascinating” and “food for thought.” And now I’m wondering whether this contributed to what he does with the last part of the film, which I won’t give away here.
I wanted to offer this anecdote as a very unexpected occurrence for me, and also to provoke discussion about how this interpretation of a classic text got made. I’m not suggesting I had any influence, but I do think Lowery’s very careful, smart re-telling takes advantage of the female agency Heng so beautifully reinscribes in her reading.
Let’s discuss the film widely and deeply. From its stunning cinematography, to its terrific performances, to its themes and subjects. And if you’re familiar with the original, give us your take on what Lowery does with it.