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Knives Out Is Social Commentary Neatly Wrapped In A Mystery Whodunit (Spoilers!)

Knives Out Is Social Commentary Neatly Wrapped In A Mystery Whodunit (Spoilers!)

As we enter 45’s last year of his first term ever, Knives Out unleashes social commentary in a way we haven’t seen yet: neatly wrapped in a clever mystery whodunit.

Spoilers ahead.

Knives Out is directed by Rian Johnson, who’s known mostly for polarizing Star Wars fans with The Last Jedi. Outside of the Empire however, Johnson is one of the most original voices out there.

He not only directed his non-Disney films: Brick, The Brothers Bloom, Looper, and Knives Out, but wrote them as well. All of his films feature a predominantly white cast with a white male protagonist and KO is no different. At least at first glance.

KO was released during Thanksgiving week, where families seemingly gather together every Thanksgiving to enjoy each other’s company and count their blessings. The truth is many don’t look forward to seeing their family members and come mostly for the food. This is only revealed at the dinner table however, when conflict cannot be avoided. 

The same method is employed throughout the movie: layers of illusion shattered by unavoidable collisions. The genius of the film lies in Johnson’s sleight of hand. 

The film trailer makes it seem like another vehicle for Daniel Craig. Instead of playing a British super spy, he plays a Kentuckian super detective by the name of Benoit Blanc. The trailer name drops heavily and who can blame them? 

The legendary Christopher Plummer plays the mysteriously murdered Harlan Thrombey. Original scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis plays Thrombey’s eldest daughter, Linda, while immortalized TV cop Don Johnson plays her husband, Richard.

The versatile Toni Collette plays Joni, the parasitic widow of Thrombey’s son and typecast bad guy Michael Shannon plays Thrombey’s youngest son, Walt.

As if that wasn’t enough, you have Captain America himself, Chris Evans playing Thrombey’s spoiled grandson, Ransom. 

That’s a lot of famous white people. 

Yes, we do have rising star, Lakeith Stanfield playing local detective Elliot. However, his character is almost a red herring as he appears to be the main detective until Blanc sharply comes into focus when he chooses to. 

The character we least expect to have a sizable role is the nurse, Marta, played by a fantastic Ana de Armas. Marta was also Thrombey’s friend, someone the whole family appreciated and loved, but not enough to merit an invite to the funeral.

Johnson shatters our expectations when he reveals what really happened the night of the murder. Marta killed Thrombey through an accidental overdose of morphine, but is commanded by Thrombey himself to erase any trace of her involvement. Thrombey is concerned for her future and her undocumented mother. 

We now know what happened or so we think and we root for Marta to outsmart the smartest detective in Blanc. Then we go deeper. Thrombey leaves his entire estate to Marta, cutting out the family entirely. The family reveals their true colors, including their racism and entitlement.

The running joke is that no one knows that Marta has emigrated from. Richard thinks she’s from Paraguay in one scene, Uruguay the next. Ransom thinks she’s Brazilian. Linda thinks Ecuador.

The family sees Marta as the help. Even Thrombey’s super liberal granddaughter, Meg, seems to only care about her because it’s part of the liberal agenda. Thrombey’s grandson, Jacob, is an alt-right internet troll, who calls Marta an “anchor baby.” 

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Ransom seemingly saves Marta from the rest of his family only to offer his help if she gives him his portion of the inheritance. The inheritance is the reason why everyone is there. 

This is the crux of the commentary. The Thrombeys are a wealthy family, who are only successful because of Harlan’s book empire. Without it, they would have to “fend for myself” as Ransom realized in the film.

Johnson uses the Thrombeys as an example of white privilege and turns the initially insignificant character of Marta into the heroine. Blanc is a great detective, yes, but he’s more magnifying glass than anything else. He’s the help. 

The Thrombeys look up at Marta in her newly inherited house at the end of the film and we feel that the power dynamic has shifted, rightfully so. Thrombey has left his estate, his progeny’s birthright to someone who deserved it. 

The meek shall inherit the earth. 

The immigrants have inherited America. 

Not because they stole jobs or took advantage of the feeble, but because they worked hard and cared about the people around them.

I don’t believe that Rian Johnson crafted this mystery around a politically loaded commentary on America. I believe this is just where the current times have guided his story and perhaps changed his own worldview.

If this is what it took for a great filmmaker like Johnson to see his own privilege and use it to make a film centered around a WOC, then the future is bright.

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