Spoilers for Knives Out below!
Rian Johnson is back to his shenanigans with Knives Out. This is a movie that manages to be both wildly entertaining and sharply-written with poignant and timely political messages.
In fact, this movie deals with some issues so recent that I was surprised they were already a topic of conversation within a major motion picture. This, of course, is how the movie interacts with the refugee crisis, as well as the treatment of marginalized people groups.
This is a movie about a rich (and notably) white family who squabbles amongst themselves when the patriarch of the family mysteriously dies. Instead of a classic whodunit with the big reveal coming at the end, this film gives its reveal about halfway through. The rest of the story, though, isn’t wasted. Instead, it’s used to convey the aforementioned themes, all while continuing to be engaging and twist-filled.
As I mentioned, it is highly notable that the Thrombey family is white. They are rich and entitled, but most of them don’t even deserve the money they get, as it is largely earned by Harlan (the late patriarch, played by Christopher Plummer). After all, the person around the family who does the most to deserve her money happens to not even be a Thrombey at all – Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas), Harlan’s personal nurse.
Marta, as we come to find out, is the one who accidentally caused the death of Harlan, much to her own horror. When the family finds this out (along with the fact that Harlan left everything to Marta in his will), they’re quick to turn on her. She’s the different one. She’s the one who doesn’t belong, and who looks different from the rest of them. Why should she reap the rewards of their father’s labor? The group of people who were earlier having a heated argument about the morality and national safety implications of refugees being separated from their families and put in cages can suddenly all see eye to eye when their comfort is threatened.
Now, the specifics of the family’s argument can certainly seem out of left field in the moment. It comes in the middle of a possible murder investigation. But it turns out to be the whole theme of the movie boiled down to this little three minute section of a scene.
In reality, not one of these people is better than the next. As is typical with a murder mystery, we get to explore each character one by one. The more we learn about each one of them, the more we realize that they are all essentially crappy, selfish people, no matter what they may be telegraphing to everyone else. And this includes Marta. She tries to cover up the fact that she caused the death of Harlan, and lies at every chance she gets. But she still gets her inheritance.
And this is the whole point of the movie. Marta may not “belong” with these people, but she has just as much of a right to the things that they do. Her skin color, upbringing, and status should not hold her back from deserving any of this.
The genius allegory, then, is a reference to the marginalized people at the United States borders. Johnson is sending the message that everyone has the right to the same things simply because we are all human. Political prejudices and lack of status should not preclude anyone from these rights.
In the perfect final shot, we see Marta sipping from a mug that says “my house” on it. This isn’t to say no one else can live there. It is just to say how she belongs just as much as everyone else does.