The Green Knight And No Time To Die: The Value Of A Legend With An Ending
The Green Knight and No Time to Die, the value of a legend with an ending. By Neil Merrett.
Queen: Look around you, young Gawain. What do you see?
Gawain: I see Legends
Queen: Do not take your place amongst them idlyThe Green Knight (2021) directed by David Lowery
Warning, there are major spoilers ahead for No Time to Die and a 14th century Arthurian text.
The respective quality or ‘importance’ of any given movie is often dependent on the angle or perspective from which you come at it.
Take for example, the latest James Bond movie that has been filling out what remains of British multiplexes and independent cinema over the last month. It is effectively the 24th sequel of a series sometimes sexy, trendsetting, taboo breaking, camp or just plainly absurd spy movies that date back to 1962. The cinematic adventures of Bond have effectively earned box office takings equal to that of a modest nation’s GDP at this point, while also embellishing a certain sense of Britishness around the world for better or worse.
At the same time of Bond’s latest outing hitting cinemas, a critically lauded and more modestly budgeted take on the 14th century chivalric romance, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, was also playing in the UK on a select few screens and streaming services.
The Green Knight, despite also having a highly regarded American director and a stellar cast of largely British acting talent, theoretically has little in common with the ongoing adventures of James Bond.
Yet from a certain perspective, they are both stories of a man and indeed manhood in tumult, as well as a nation struggling with itself and its heroes. Granted, these stories are set millennia apart, but they are not ultimately too different thematically.
Dev Patel’s would be knight is desperate to prove himself and define his worth as an honourable man and hero against any kind of external force. For what is a man’s purpose if not to be a hero or legend? He is a character that is uncertain if he is worthy of sitting among the larger-than-life heroes among whom he has been raised. Perhaps a more fitting question is how much is he willing to give to sit among them?
The burden of a legend
Much like ‘Sir’ Gawain, Daniel Craig’s five movie tenure as James Bond has been spent largely telling the story of a soldier trying to live up to the concept of an almost mythical national legend that his character is never fully comfortable with. Killing in the name of his country is Bond’s speciality, yet Craig’s portrayal wears the resulting burden and psychological toll of being 007 as if it were ill-fitting suit, even while being immaculately or not so immaculately dressed.
The latest Bond has been played since 2006 as a man haunted by living up to his own expectations of what a super spy and ‘International Man of Mystery’ should be. While No Time to Die shows there is always another 007 ready to take over from him, apparently there is and has only ever been one James Bond.
On a meta level however, Craig plays Bond as someone encumbered by the complex and often impossible legacy of trying to be like the legendary supermen that may or may not have existed before him. These were men that ensured Britain was ultimately always on the side of right, while always walking away from any danger with the girl and a good drink never far away. Needless to say, the character of Bond was starting to look hopelessly dated in the post 9/11 world before Craig took over the role.
Walking away with the girl and ensuring Britain is on the side of right are not guaranteed for Bond since Daniel Craig took over the role – no matter how valiantly or convincingly he tries to punch, shoot or strangle his way through his internal and external demons.
He is the perhaps the perfect portrayal of James Bond therefore for multiple generations of people raised on the decade’s worth of movies starring Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan as the indestructible hero. His Bond, by direct comparison, seems to speak for anyone who has dreamt of achieving some form of greatness or legendary status, yet finding themselves as the years go by falling short of living life with unflappable style, an unshakable sense of right and wrong and general fearlessness.
Breaking the final rule
No Time to Die, Craig’s final Bond movie, goes one further by breaking the last unspoken rule of the series that the secret agent should never be fell by any man, woman or evil organisation.
Despite the title’s boast, James Bond doesn’t make it out alive of No Time to Die. Ultimately, after struggling with the modern complexities of espionage, empire and who deserves a second chance or a bullet in their brain, the final act of Craig’s Bond ends on a satisfying, simple high.
After 15 years of struggling to do something resembling the right thing in a world where good and bad is often opaquely defined, James Bond gets something of a happy ending – even if he isn’t around to see it.
After years of watching the toll of espionage and professional murder conveyed through Craig’s wounded, yet piercingly blue and soulful eyes, his final mission involves nothing else but saving the world from a British-wrought viral Armageddon. This is less about the greater good as it is to ensure a young girl – one with absurdly blue, soulful eyes – can see some form of tomorrow – even if James Bond isn’t around to save it from then on.
Bond and Gawain’s stories both end with the characters reaching a similar form of acceptance about their purpose and how the world may not ultimately be theirs to save.
Few, if any of us, will ultimately end up as superheroes. Yet in the sometimes underwhelming, compromised, difficult or even flawed choices we take in our lives, we might just hope to dare to occasionally do something right for those that follow or are left behind – whether just keeping our word or looking after a child.
As a cinematic adaptation of an already metaphorical story, The Green Knight has something of an open ending with regards to Gawain’s fate. Bond is very less open to interpretation with a literally poetic ending for the character and a hopeful elegy about the people who will tell our stories for better or worse when we are gone.
So it’s perhaps a little cynical and eye rolling to be told at the very end of No Time to Die that ‘James Bond will Return’ amidst the media frenzy of who will or won’t be playing the super spy next.
Surely every audience member is aware in the world of global franchises that even death cannot bring down James Bond forever.
Like Sir Gawain, The Green Knight, King Arthur or Morgana Le Fey, Bond is now embedded in the national and global psyche in the ongoing saga of who we are and hope to be. Bond isn’t any one man, woman or person, but a collective legend about the type of heroes we look to define ourselves against.
As Gawain and Bond show, even amidst the doubt, existential struggles and frankly poor choices they we may find ourselves making in one form or another, there are always chances to do right in someone’s eyes.
Not a bad message to take from a mid-week movie night.