The Cream Knight
Notes on a cum shot
I would be remiss if I didn’t use this newsletter to talk about one of the most important cinematic scenes of 2021 so far.
For Paste, I recently wrote in depth about David Lowery’s The Green Knight, a deeply affecting, sprawling fantasy epic. What I did not get into depth about in my review, however, was the best piece of imagery in the entire film. Not the sweeping landscapes and luxuriant vegetation of the Irish countryside, nor the meticulously composited shots made to evoke Renaissance paintings; nor the haunting cross-cuts between Morgan La Fey’s ceremony conjuring the titular Green Knight — highlighting the ritualistic significance of every totem involved — and the arrival of the oaken knight himself, or every expressive close-up of Sir Gawain’s harried yet hopeful face as he traverses dangerous lands in search of his own honor. No, the most compelling piece of imagery in The Green Knight is a handful of splooge that glistens atop Sir Gawain’s hand.
I am struggling to remember the last time that a recent more mainstream, Western film featured a prominent load of nut. It had to have been Call Me by Your Name, right? No, we saw Robert Pattinson’s spermatozoa in The Lighthouse, didn’t we? Or does that not count as mainstream? Do either of those count as mainstream? Does The Green Knight even count? I don’t know, but I think we’ve been waiting at least a couple years now for a newer film to dare to allow a character to be covered in rope in front of the camera — and what better vehicle than a dour adaptation of a 14th-century Arthurian legend? The Green Knight cum shot acts as the climax (literally and figuratively) of a particularly erotic sequence, the film already fully instilled with a surprising sensuality that I simply did not expect for a modern indie adaptation of the Knights of the Round Table. Dev Patel’s Sir Gawain begins the film awaking in a brothel surrounded by naked women, shifting into his relationship with sex worker Esel (Alicia Vikander), who yearns for Gawain despite his hesitancy towards giving all of himself to her due to their class imbalance.
And there’s a weird sexual tension between Sir Gawain and every new person he encounters on his quest, right? Am I imagining that? From Barry Keoghan’s trio of sadistic bandits, to the ghoulish Winifred (Erin Kellyman) of the forest, all culminating in a sequence between Gawain and a Lady whose face matches that of his Esel (and a denouement in which the Lady’s Lord [Joel Edgerton] shares a kiss with him). But it’s hard for a film to not have deeply rooted lust as part of the package deal when it stars an actor like Dev Patel, whose sex appeal is so overwhelmingly pronounced by the mere act of existing. I mean, just look at this guy! Fucking kill me!
The filmmakers themselves were clearly aware of this. As written in a recent New York Times profile of Patel, it’s the first film to really lean into the fact that he’s a sex symbol now, with his “romance-novel hair, empathetic eyes and a well-kept beard.” Lowery apparently admitted that he began removing pieces initially intended for Gawain’s costuming. "We stripped a lot of that away,” he explained, “because it was depreciating all of the qualities he was bringing to it, intrinsically, just by sitting on that horse." Harkening back to Adam Driver’s recent Burberry ad stint, it’s a major week for sexy horse guys.
All that to say, it’s Patel’s natural sexiness and the simmering lustful tension throughout the film that reaches its peak—then releases—when, on his fraught journey, Sir Gawain arrives at the castle of a Lady and a Lord (Joel Edgerton) in need of rest and sustenance. Without going into too much detail about the scene in question (in consideration of the film having only just released, and for my friends across the pond who have been tragically robbed of a release date), it’s a fascinating power play between the Lady and Gawain, who spend much of their time together at the castle engaged in a lascivious game of cat and mouse. It is as if, somehow, the Lady is all too aware of her facial similarity to Gawain’s Camelot-bound lover — as if her visage is not mere coincidence, but intention — eager to see him cow to the wills of temptation. And, well, he does; after pining for Gawain through the entirety of his stay, the Lady approaches him while shirtless in bed with an enchanted sash she claims she fashioned for his protection. A sash that just happens to mirror the exact one he was given by his mother, stolen earlier on his journey by the bandits — but that’s a whole other thing to get into.
And then she jerks him off. Or so I think? She either jerks him off or dry humps him, since her entire body heaves to and fro as if the pair are undertaking actual sex and which seemed to me like a lot of movement for a single hand job. Either way, it leaves Gawain’s hand covered in a thin, gleaming layer of his own seed. The scene concludes abruptly (and humorously) once the act is finished and the Lady has left his room, Gawain realizing he is still not alone in there. But the sex sequence is thrillingly erotic, and, as I wrote in my review, “working as a beautiful push and pull between the temptation of quick release and the virtue (daresay, honor) of forestalled desire.” It’s what makes older movies so much hotter than many newer ones.
When recent films deign to feature a sex scene at all, they throw sexless characters lacking chemistry into seamless, uncomplicated intercourse that is bereft of messy intimacy and feels eager to end. Yearning is often more titillating than the act of sex itself. And though a sexual exchange is in fact seen through to the end in The Green Knight, the buildup to it is riveting. The Lady and Gawain fight back and forth — in lingering glances, shared novels, reluctant portraiture —between human urges and Gawain’s self-imposed construct of honor, and it is all merely symbolic of Gawain’s vulnerability. His imperfection. Thus, the sex scene with the Lady is no less a test of courage or cowardice than the Green Knight’s Christmas Game, and representative of the virtue to be found in failure.
And then there’s the jism itself, which is framed truly quite beautifully. A load of glimmering ejaculate adorning Gawain’s knuckles and gripped hand clasped around the green sash like a line of jewels. A literal pearl necklace. The camera holds on it just long enough for an audience to go, “Wait, what? What the fuck?” and allow the reality to sink in. “You are no knight,” the Lady chides Gawain with a cunning smile. The reveal of the cum shot is both a jarring sight gag and another simple reminder of Gawain’s humanity, as he embarks upon his quest for a greatness he believes will push him beyond that. Yes, the noble Knights of the Round Table are all filled with sperm. Legends are human, after all.*