“You are no knight.”
These are the words spoken to Gawain — the protagonist of David Lowery’s new fantasy film The Green Knight — by a mysterious woman who just made him nut all over himself via dry humping.
To be fair, he couldn’t help it. Though Gawain (former Skins star Dev Patel) had resisted her previous advances, she’d offered him the thing he craved most: A cloth girdle his mother had weaved from magics meant to protect her son from the harm soon awaiting him. Ever the tease, she presses against Gawain and kisses him, demanding he tell her how bad he wants it.
“I want it,” he whispers, then grunts and pleads until he desperately pulls the charmed belt from her, orgasming in the same charged moment. After she condemns him for his lack of restraint and smears the glistening load across his knuckles, he wraps his jizz-soaked prize around his waist and flees from the manor, ashamed and eager to finish the journey he hopes will bring him honor.
To be clear, none of this is played for laughs. It’s a moody retelling of an epic poem, and Lowery spins the moment as one of sexual frustration and dramatic shame. But, be that as it may, it’s also one of the few instances a filmmaker has been brave enough to show semen in such tender detail on the silver screen.
Until recently, cum’s place in mainstream cinema has been infrequent and largely comedic. There was that infamous hair gel scene in There’s Something About Mary, and who can forget when Stifler accidentally chugged some spunk in American Pie? But while the creamy secretion has occasionally enjoyed less farcical screen time in indie films like The Doom Generation and international fare like Y Tu Mamá También, it wasn’t until 2017’s Call Me By Your Name that a big-time film showed cum in a more serious light. When Timothée Chalamet seductively masturbates into a hollowed-out peach that his older sexual partner tries to sample, it’s not played for laughs, but as an act of deep intimacy and forbidden desire.
The thing is, Call Me By Your Name’s peaches-and-cream moment was lifted straight from the book it was adapted from. The opposite is true of The Green Knight. Despite the fantasy epic being based on a 600-year-old chivalric poem, the penile byproduct was brand new to the narrative. After experiencing this gusher of a revelation, I bought a ticket to my local cineplex fully expecting to see some cinematic semen, but what I did not expect was the narrative weight that Patel’s splooge would hold in the wider moral of this Arthurian epic.
While it looks like a straightforward fantasy story from its promo materials, The Green Knight deconstructs the traditional hero’s journey by telling a sexually tense story about shame, cowardice and selfish machismo. It’s brimming with sensuality and discomfort in equal measure, the two often blending in Patel’s impeccable performance as a medieval fuckboy. In the opening scene Gawain awakens half-naked and happy in a brothel with his lover Essel, but the following scenes with his mother and the king show he is embarrassed of his debaucherous lifestyle and wishes for what he perceives as greatness.
On his journey to become an honorable man, he faces numerous challenges and trials that he often fails because he is self-centered and juvenile. When a troubled woman asks him to retrieve something precious she lost from the bottom of a lake, he asks what she will give him for his good deed, earning her rebuke: “Why would you ask me that? Why would you ever ask me that?” The film is full of brief episodes like this where Gawain commits acts of unknightly cringe; yet none feel quite as crucial as the one that ends with him covered in his own skeet (which a source close to the production claims was made with a mixture of Elmer’s glue and water).
The key to understanding Gawain’s hot load lies in the person who inspired the sensual secretion: The character known only as The Lady, played by Alicia Vikander (who happens to look exactly like Gawain’s commoner girlfriend). Earlier in the film, Essel asks Gawain to marry her and to make her “his lady,” a request that he silently rebuffs. The Lady, who is cultured, poised and rich as hell, represents all the reasons Gawain can’t bring himself to commit to Essel. In accepting the magical belt and its accompanying dry hump, he shows cowardice in regards to his impending death but also in the face of his supposed chivalric values.
After Gawain flees and makes his ultimate walk of shame to meet the Green Knight, he runs into The Lord of the house (Joel Edgerton) on The Lord’s way back from a hunt. Having previously agreed to trade whatever he gains in the house for whatever The Lord hunts, The Lord takes back the kiss his wife gave the lad, planting a big old smooch on Gawain. When asked if he has anything else to give this bisexual bear of a man, Gawain says no, refusing to part with his enchanted cumrag he owes, a crutch for him to hinder his personal growth.
Gawain’s gooey essence is essential to understanding his biggest flaw: The inability to reconcile who he is with who he wants to be. The express goal of his quest is “let big green guy chop off my head to prove I’m a brave and honorable knight.” But he accepts a shamegasm from another man’s wife, runs away drenched in his own juices and refuses to part with his jizz towel of invulnerability. If the mystical antagonist of the Green Knight represents the unrelenting power of the natural world, Gawain’s helplessness in fighting his own nature is poignantly represented by his shimmering seed. When faced with a ridiculous standard of masculinity to live up to, it’s hard not to feel like the sum of your own fluids.
I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say that it feels starkly refreshing for a serious fantasy story to utilize jizz as a core part of its narrative. With The Green Knight, Lowery uses Arthurian legend and horny revisionism to create a fascinating cumming-of-age story. If only the rest of us could learn such valuable lessons from our squirt.