You may wonder how massive stone giants, talking foxes, hulking tree demons and more fantastical oddities in David Lowery’s “The Green Knight” could come from the same guy who made grounded Americana indies like “The Old Man and the Gun” and “A Ghost Story.” But Lowery says that all of his films are something of a piece, and the film it may have the most in common with is one you may least expect: his upcoming live-action Disney remake, “Peter Pan and Wendy.”
The film will be Lowery’s second Disney remake after the underrated critical darling “Pete’s Dragon.” And while he says it might sound “facile,” both “The Green Knight” and “Peter Pan and Wendy” are “very similar.”
“All the things that matter to me about ‘Green Knight,’ all the things that are important to me, I carry over to ‘Peter Pan and Wendy.’ I approach it exactly the same way, especially because I’m dealing with a text that is beloved to me,” Lowery said in an interview with TheWrap. “It is very near and dear to my heart. I want to respect it. I want to honor it, and I also want to illuminate it to the best of my abilities with my own perspective.”
Lowery said he filmed “The Green Knight” and “Peter Pan” nearly back to back, and while the two movies have completely different audiences, with heavy and surreal material in “The Green Knight” he’d never put into a Disney film, he can’t help but note the similarities.
“I think to date, ‘A Ghost Story’ and ‘Pete’s Dragon’ are my two favorite of my feature films, and they feel like siblings to me,” he said. “I can’t help but feel they’re very similar, and I can’t help but suspect that ‘Green Knight’ and ‘Peter Pan and Wendy’ will be another pair of siblings with a lot in common.”
He even teased that “Peter Pan and Wendy” will have an Easter Egg calling back to “The Green Knight,” with Lowery secretly sneaking the knight’s character design into the Disney film.
Lowery’s “The Green Knight” is an adaptation of the 14th Century chivalric romance poem and Arthurian legend written by “Anonymous,” as he attributes it in the film’s opening credits. It tells the quest of Sir Gawain, as played by Dev Patel, who on Christmas Day faces the sinister Green Knight (Ralph Ineson) and accepts a challenge that will seal his fate. The mysterious knight says that whatever blow Gawain lands on him, he must travel to a remote Green Chapel one year later and take the same blow in return. Gawain chops the knight’s head off, and the next year, he embarks on a journey to meet the knight and return his promise.
But that’s just the set up in a surrealist experience that finds Patel’s Sir Gawain encountering bandits, ghosts, torrential downpours and more. Lowery throws a lot at the wall, with each set piece more painterly, beautiful and at times bizarre than the last. And he adds that the studio A24 “never batted an eyelash” in wondering where he might want to take the film next.
Lowery said that at Toronto film fest, his previous film “The Old Man and the Gun” was called his “latest in my series of bedtime stories,” a line that has stuck with him and fits exactly with “The Green Knight.”
“Every single one of them feels like a fable or a bedtime story. I’ve often referred to them myself as fairy tales,” he said. “They’ve always felt distanced from reality. They’ve never felt completely tethered to the real world. They all had this through line, this surrealist approach to reality that is very much in keeping with my own perspective on the world.”
“The Green Knight” feels both surreal and grounded at once, blending tones of grave, operatic drama and elegant sincerity, and it seems to embody all the contradictions of the original text as its been translated and interpreted in countless ways throughout centuries. In that sense, Lowery says his film was inspired in equal parts by Ron Howard’s “Willow” as it was Jim Jarmusch’s “Dead Man.”
But he called making “The Green Knight” back to back with “Peter Pan and Wendy” an “enriching experience” that helped make the films feel similar, even if not in tone.
“I think ‘Peter Pan and Wendy’ is the happiest I’ve ever been on a set because when you’re making a movie like that, the ultimate goal is to bring joy, so there’s a lot of joy going into it,” he said. “‘Green Knight’ was a lot of fun and we laughed a lot, but it wasn’t quite as joyful as you can imagine. There were some pretty dark days on set where we all left pretty somewhat woeful due to the subject matter and the images we were capturing.”
David Lowery’s “The Green Knight” opens in theaters from A24 on Friday.