The Green Knight (2021)

The Green Knight (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

Composed by Daniel Hart

The Green Knight is David Lowery’s horror-style retelling of the legend of Sir Gawain (Dev Patel) and the Green Knight. On Christmas Day in Arthurian England, the Green Knight offers a game. The challenge is for one knight to land a blow on him. The catch is that a year later the knight must receive from him an equal blow. Gawain, eager to prove himself, rashly lops off his head. The Green Knight simply picks up his severed head, so now the young man must go on a quest to reach the Green Chapel to have the blow returned (and suffer his death). Along the way he has several supernatural encounters and faces many hardships. The movie is a masterpiece in visuals, save when the cinematographer goes overboard with the shadows. The emphasis on long and/or artistic takes also gives off an air of pretentious self-indulgence on the part of Lowery. The main issue is that unless one has familiarized himself with the original story the film and its themes get very difficult to follow. Things are harder to follow thanks to the audio work. A lot of the dialogue is muffled, whispered, or delivered in overdone creepy tones. The music by Daniel Hart doesn’t help much, either. It goes for atmospheric tones in a manner that I argue hurts the film further.

Daniel Hart is a frequent collaborator with David Lowery and often adds to the ambiguity of his films with experimental and oft minimalistic scores. “In Stori Stiff and Stronge” sets the tone, with aimless woodwinds, wooden percussion, and a simple eerie woman’s choral motif. Hart effectively creates a dream-like atmosphere. However, the minimalist nature of the score in general makes it difficult to understand the emotions behind the dialogue and in turn connect with Gawain himself. The music instead, especially the choral motif, proves distracting and lends a horror atmosphere to scenes that really shouldn’t have it. The opening scenes in particular suffer. In conjunction with the overuse of shadows and muffled dialogue for Christmas festivities, they create an uneasy and foreboding atmosphere that should really kick in once the Green Knight issues his challenge. Even as the knights are having a bountiful feast, Hart fails to give the scene any proper levity to be disrupted by the arrival of the titular antagonist. Ironically there is one moment where music was absent but really needed. Lowery has a long shot of Gawain leaving the town to embark on his quest. Just a simple ascending horror cue could have helped the audience understand the protagonist’s fatalistic apprehension.

I’m not asking for a collection of sweeping themes. This isn’t that type of film. But some stronger melodies could draw in audiences that are having trouble with the other aspects of the film. More calming melodies in the non-horror scenes would make the actually horrifying scenes stand out more. Hart supports more light-hearted moments with simple fluttering woodwinds or string rhythms. These do little to break the atmosphere, still riddled with unease and matched up to darkly lit visuals. He provides the Green Knight himself with forest-sounding percussion and electronics (“One Year Hence”) as well as the choral motif. The Green Knight in this film is not a man attired in green armor, but a wooden being and possibly a forest deity. He barely appears, but his looming menace is represented throughout the film as Hart employs his style of music for various tense scenes, especially in tracks like “You Are No Knight.”

The employment of vocals leads to the more listenable material. “You Do Smell Like You’ve Been at Mass All Night” stands out for breaking out a Medieval song (1:42). This song reappears in “Gawain Runs and Runs,” a pivotal scene where the character makes a fateful choice. There are several such songs throughout the film and these can be considered the highlights. The St. Winifred segment in particular is provided with a more religious chorus as Gawain has an episode with the Welsh saint (her backstory is not explained in the film). An example of this is “Are You Real, or Are You a Spirit?” “The Giant’s Call” is a haunting piece with alien choir for perhaps the most bizarre and striking episode.

The score gets into its last act with “Gawain Runs and Runs.” Throughout the next few tracks a fiddle rhythm represents a montage sequence. “Blome Swete Lilie Flour” is a deceivingly relaxing song sung in Old English. “Excalibur” sees the fiddle play in counterpoint to a slow and warm classical rhythm, with the choir joining in later. In the last few seconds the choral motif plays to show that all is not actually good. “O Nyghtegale” starts as a soothing song, then returns to the montage music The tone is quite noble, but as usual with a touch of something off. “Now I’m Ready, I’m Ready Now” continues the violin melody with the undercurrent of the Green Knight’s horror material. Around 3:00 the choir starts to ascend and then things go quiet for a second. A final angelic choral piece closes out the track and the film. “Be Merry, Swete Lorde” closes the album with a jolly song that contrasts with the preceding score.

Daniel Hart’s music for Green Knight has its interesting textural moments and adds to the film’s ambiguous nature. On the other hand it disconnects a much-needed emotional hook with the film. It’s worse on the album, where this music goes on for over 70 minutes. In the age of digital release, it’s easy to release most or all of a score. I assume the intent is for consumers to assemble their own playlists or select that one piece of music they like. Still, for those who like their album experiences, Green Knight is a frustrating slog. The songs in Old English are the only pieces to really give any heart and strong melody to the proceedings. The other music is potentially interesting in small doses, but overbearing when played at length. In short this is an experimental score befitting an unfortunately self-indulgent film.

Rating: 3/10

Tracklisting

  1. In Stori Stif and Stronge (2:02)
  2. Christ is Born Indeed (1:29)
  3. You Do Smell Like You’ve Been at Mass All Night (2:35)
  4. Tell Me a Tale of Yourself, So That I Might Know Thee (2:50)
  5. Shaped By Your Hands (2:02)
  6. O Greatest of Kings (2:57)
  7. Remember It is Only a Game (2:28)
  8. One Year Hence (3:03)
  9. I Promise You Will Not Come to Harm (3:15)
  10. Child Thou Ert a Pilgrim (2:18)
  11. Rest Them Bones my Brave Little Knight (3:34)
  12. A Meeting with St. Winifred (1:08)
  13. Your Head is on Your Neck, My Lady (2:00)
  14. Are You Real, Or Are You a Spirit? (1:20)
  15. I Will Strike Thee Down with Every Care that I Have for Thee (1:34)
  16. Aiganz O Kulzphazur
  17. The Giant’s Call (2:58)
  18. Brave Sir Gawain Come to Face the Green Knight (1:58)
  19. Should Not a Knight Offer a Lady a Kiss in Thanks? (1:04)
  20. Hold Very Still (2:31)
  21. Do You Believe in Witchcraft? (3:07)
  22. You Are No Knight (1:23)
  23. I Never Asked for Your Help Anyway (2:48)
  24. Gawain Runs and Runs (1:41)
  25. Blome Swete Lilie Flour
  26. Excalibur (1:55)
  27. O Nyghtegale
  28. Now I’m Ready, I’m Ready Now (4:02)
  29. Be Merry, Swete Lorde (1:30)

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