First Things asked contributors for the best film they saw in 2021, and my husband and I both picked films by David Lowery. My choice was The Green Knight, and (once I had dibsed it) Alexi chose The Old Man and the Gun. Here’s an excerpt from my reflection:
To call it an adaptation of the poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight would be inaccurate. It’s a wrestling match with the tale, and with the ideal of chivalry itself. I can’t recommend it for teen viewers, as this is a decidedly unchaste Gawain. But it’s a good movie to see with friends, provided you watch it early enough in the evening that you have time for at least an hour of argument afterward. Lowery’s Camelot is a fading kingdom. His protagonist is himself green, not yet knighted, and not ready to live up to the demands of knighthood, marriage, or any vocation of sustained faithfulness and sacrifice. When he answers the Green Knight’s Christmas challenge, the film’s Gawain is hoping this fight will change something in him. In his subsequent quest, he’s still seeking a great act, worthy of song and story, big enough to swallow up his life of persistent sin and broken promises. He hopes, like one of Flannery O’Connor’s characters, that if he can’t be a saint, “[he] could be a martyr if they killed [him] quick.” Not everything in the film was satisfying, but it took serious questions seriously.
Alexi’s choice was the based-on-a-true-story tale of elderly bank robber Forrest Tucker.
Unlike the hapless not-quite-a-knight Gawain, Tucker knows exactly what he wants to be doing and relishes the life he’s chosen. He follows a chivalric code of sorts, living as the last cowboy outlaw or gentleman thief. Does that mean he’s found the honor Gawain is seeking? The film offers occasional glimpses of the damage Tucker does to those who stay in his life longer than his bemusedly charmed victims. Elisabeth Moss appears in a single, crucial scene as a daughter Tucker doesn’t even know he has. Lowery lets us enjoy a venerable rogue reflecting on his picaresque life, while leaving open the question of what it would take for such a man to be part of a family or a society