Knives Out is arguably the most groundbreaking whodunit released this century. Granted, it’s a bit early to tell. Benoit Blanc has yet to cement his legacy in other entries or media. Hercule Poirot’s got a one-century head start on him. Sherlock’s got two.
Last time, I laid out how the film’s plot inventively subverted murder mystery tropes while still embracing them. It wasn’t a case of the detective hunting down an unknown killer. Rather, it was the “killer” trying to evade the detective. It was a complete shift in the general dynamic.
Knives Out, directed by the talented Rian Johnson, depicted the aftermath of a wealthy patriarch’s demise. And the dramatic clash over his multimillion dollar estate.
It’s also a tastefully crafted political satire piece. At film’s end, we don’t feel that one side of the aisle was favored and the other wasn’t. Hell, you probably wouldn’t know Rian’s political affiliation by the film alone.
In the political context of the film, fans look to the two young characters of Meg and Jacob Thrombey. Logical, no? When we’re young, we think about our place in the world and how we can change it. No one’s views are more unfiltered than a late-teen/early twenty-something. And that’s not even considering the ubiquity of social media and how we can easily dissiminate our views at the tap of a thumb.
The Young and the Reckless
Jacob Thrombey, Walt’s son/Harlan’s grandson, is a young preppy who is constantly craning over his smartphone. Described as an, excuse my French, “alt-right troll dipshit,” we can infer that he shares articles from the right-wing blogosphere. He also provokes others into emotional responses while they refute his views (a “troll”, in other words).
But while Jacob scans Breitbart articles, he’s absolutely glued to his phone. He’s detatched completely from the goings-on around him. When his family mobs Marta, after she gains Harlan’s estate, he’s the only Thrombey watching the incident from a distance. He doesn’t get close or involved, he simply watches and livestreams the event to engage others from faraway places.
As stated earlier, even though Knives Out doesn’t glamorize right-wing politics, it doesn’t mean it warmly portrays the Left. It doesn’t. Jacob’s cousin and left-wing counterpart, Meg Thrombey, is arguably worse than he is. Arguably, I emphasize.
Megan Thrombey, Joni’s daughter and Harlan’s granddaughter, is the antithesis of Jacob. Well, at least she is in the first half. Aside from having opposing views, she actively engages with the people around her. She has actual social skills, in other words. We see Meg defending the poor and downtrodden. She openly snaps at cops referring to Marta as “the help.”
When Ransom orders Fran, the housekeeper, to get him a glass of milk, Meg rushes to her defense. Apparently she believes it’s wrong for the wealthy to oppress the poor, which is fair. But then again, when you sign up for a job and are paid a certain wage, aren’t you willfully signing up to carry out the responsibilities? Hey, that’s just me and my take. Take it or leave it.
Anyway, Meg is idealistic, decent, and good-hearted. Even a better person than everyone else. But is she, really? After Marta is officially Harlan’s heir, Meg is initially supportive of her claim. “It’s what Harlan wanted,” she tells her mother.
Joni, indoubtedly Meg’s primary political infuence, manipulates her daughter into thinking her (expensive) education is in danger. For someone who derides Ransom for being a “trust fund prick,” she certainly has had much to gain from her rich grandfather’s allowances.
Values or Self-Valuation?
From there, Meg’s values crumble to dust. She calls Marta to guilt-trip her into renouncing her inheritance until Marta promises she’ll pay off the tuition. It’s later revealed Meg infromed the Thrombeys (off-screen) about Marta’s mother being an undocumented immigrant.
Marta knew right away that Meg was behind this. Meg was the only person she told. After all, Meg is very supportive of immigrants! She’s the egalitarian social justice warrior that will have your back! She would never endanger an undocumented immigrant with the threat of deportation from the greatest country in the world…
Or so Marta thought. When push came to shove, Meg threw Marta under the bus and her ideals out the window. Like the Thrombeys, and all the right-wing firebrands she loathes, Meg is every bit as self-interested as they are. The reason Meg is worse than Jacob (again, arguably) is Marta would not have disclosed this sensitive information to Jacob.
It is never wise to inform others of a deeply-held secret. They’re bound to spill the beans at some point. And, let’s not kid, humans are selfish creatures regardless of political affiliation. While Meg and Jacob were upfront with their views, the grown ups were more practical and reserved about theirs.
The Old and the Wise
Richard and Walt
Richard Drysdale, Harlan’s son-in-law, is quite unequivocal about his hardline views on immigration … IF, and only if, he’s around the right crowd. With family members, he doesn’t care about extolling the virtues of “the law.” But in the company of strangers, like police officers and a detective? Forget about it!
Richard scorns Jacob as a “creep” and “literal Nazi.” He quotes Hamilton (“Immigrants, we get the job done”) when talking about Marta to the officers. Richard had to show them he’s not a total douche with sensitive subjects! But what about his brother-in-law, Walt?
Walt is decidely mum about his views, but considering his wife Donna and son Jacob are conservative firebrands…well, we can infer he endorses a fraction of what they say. However, if one looks carefully during certain scenes, Walt tries to keep a lid on their rhetoric. He admonishes Jacob for using the term “anchor baby.” He tries to calm his wife in the middle of a drunken immigration rant.
Richard and Walt, being brothers-in-law that don’t get along, share one fundamental trait: they know right-wing talking points aren’t “safe” in certain circles. And they’re correct. If you say the law matters more than people’s well-being and lives, the other side is apt to start calling you a heartless monster, or worse. They’re apt to start utilzing emotional antics, like Joni does.
Joni exemplifies the film’s primary critique regarding modern leftism. Sure, her daughter may be spineless with flimsy politics when the going gets tough, but those are universal traits. Being a coward isn’t reserved for leftists. What is reserved for leftists is using emotion in the heat of political debate.
“They are putting children in cages!” is a quote we all heard in the summer of 2018. While it was effective rhetoric, it left out a bit of context. The family separations were a byproduct of terminating the prior “catch and release” policy. If immigrants are incarcerated, their children cannot be in facilities housing adult offenders. Even American citizen parents, and their children, are subject to the same standard.
But I digress. Joni was using overly-emotional rhetoric that was highly simplified. Why? She most likely got her views from tweets. There’s only so much info to glean from a 140-character message on the internet.
Now, her opposite in the birthday party debate, Richard, didn’t help his case any better than Joni did. He not only involved Marta by calling her over, he handed her his cake dish on impulse. So much for Americans and Hispanophones being equal. Might as well call Richard by the “D-word” variation of his name.
Richard exemplified, not only the wishy-washiness of modern American conservatives, but the overt lack of sensitivity. His wife Linda may have been insensitive when push came to shove, but she was anything but wishy-washy about her politics.
Jamie Lee Curtis’ character is where Knives Out shows its tasteful handling of red-hot political topics. Linda is a real-estate business tycoon who got her start from a million-dollar loan from her father. *cough* like Trump! But seriously, that one’s pretty on the nose, innit?
You could surmise she’s the manifestation of the former President in Knives Out. Not only were these two in the same industry, but they probably had similar views regarding immigration. And the same distaste for postmodernist college degrees.
Linda praised Marta’s work ethic, but quickly devolved to spitting acid after reading Harlan’s will. Fortunately, it wasn’t anything explicitly racist.
Toward the film’s conclusion, Linda discovered her father’s secret letter. To her shock, she learns Richard is having an affair and punches his lights out (off-screen. I know, it sucks). Despite losing the inheritance, Linda realized her father was still looking out for her. Harlan had her best interest at heart, even from beyond the grave.
Linda was self-made (to an extent) and ran a successful company in Boston. Of all Harlan’s kids, she was the only one who didn’t need the extra cash. Linda had enough of it already. She was the only child of Harlan who amounted to something. Of the Thrombeys and Drysdales, Linda was the only one who was redeemed in the conclusion of Knives Out. Wait, they allowed the female Trump to be redeemed? In this movie? Color me surprised.
Perfectly Balanced, as All Things Should Be
In the highly-partisan age of overreliance on diversity, and random political statements during award shows, Knives Out is a breath of fresh air. It’s a film that balances both sides of the aisle. It pulls no punches with the social reality pertaining to leftists and rightists.
Knives Out may just be the film that perfectly captures the political zeitgeist of the 2010s. Not one side was free of imperfections, and that’s because humans aren’t perfect. Regardless of politics, we can all sink into greed, criminal behavior and…redemption. Yes, any of us can be redeemed.
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