Abraham Lincoln

Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Green Knight, M. R. James’ Medievalism, and Where to Take a Break in the Tale of Genji

August 17th, 2021 | Robin

Ken and Robin Consume Media is brought to you by the discriminating and good-looking backers of the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff Patreon. Each week we provide capsule reviews of the books, movies, TV seasons and more we cram into our hyper-analytical sensoriums. Join the Patreon to help pick the items we’ll talk about in greater depth on a little podcast segment we like to call Tell Me More.

The Pinnacle

The Tale of Genji (Fiction, Murasaki Shikibu, translated by Dennis Washburn, 11th century/2015) A preternaturally handsome and charismatic Heian-era courtier and his descendants cause and endure suffering as a result of their romantic entanglements. The first long-form narrative readable as one would a contemporary mimetic novel, here in a lucid, accessible translation, limns the mores and atmosphere of a hothouse social milieu. The last third of this extremely long piece stands alone as a sequel to the rest, so you might want to set that aside that for later.—RDL


The Green Knight (Film, US, David Lowery, 2021) Royal nephew Gawain (Dev Patel) seeks honor by answering the deadly challenge of the Green Knight (Ralph Ineson). Lowery’s departures from the original 14th-century poem will irritate purists, and some of his insertions may well confound everybody regardless of prior knowledge. Our 21st-century failson Gawain seeks self-improvement through a series of lush, eerie set pieces that don’t quite add up — yet Patel sells them and himself, and you’re never bored watching Andrew Droz Palermo’s cinematographic tapestries. Sean Harris’ exhausted Arthur imbues the film with special pathos. –KH

Jewel Robbery (Film, US, William Dieterle, 1932) Bored countess (Kay Francis) falls for a suave jewel robber (William Powell.) Adaptation of a frothy Hungarian play keeps the focus where it belongs, on the interplay between its charming leads.—RDL

Medieval Studies and the Ghost Stories of M.R. James (Nonfiction, Patrick J. Murphy, 2017) Rather than a study of medieval elements in James’ ghost stories (although there is a decent amount of that) this book expounds the thesis that the discipline of “medieval studies” — just coming into being as James wrote — becomes the crucial lens through which to view James’ work. Rather than death or sex or body, the boundary James’ specters and protagonists transgress is the disciplinary boundary between antiquarianism and academe. I’m not sure I buy it, but Murphy also uncovers a lot of new details about the tales, and I did learn a good deal about “medieval studies” to boot. –KH

Pig (Film, US, Michael Sarnoski, 2021) Chef-turned-hermit (Nicolas Cage) returns to the city he abandoned in a stoic, implacable quest for his stolen truffle pig. Absurdist story elements played absolutely straight, in a strange feat of tonal control, with a plot adjacent to the noir and vengeance genres and an interiorized but nonetheless deeply Cagey lead performance.—RDL

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