| January 11, 2020 12:00 AM
Knives Out, an Agatha Christie-style whodunit that will likely snag some Oscar nominations soon, is not really political.
You can enjoy the film as a pretty standard murder mystery without unpacking its characters’ beliefs, from the Trumpism of one character to the open borders rhetoric of another. One of the most interesting things about the film is the way it’s able to lampoon both.
Liberal magazine Sojourners described the movie’s perspective as a “merciless skewering of white privilege.” More fundamentally, it’s a critique of hypocrisy.
Hollywood liberals took a beating this week when Ricky Gervais blasted their double standards: touting moral lessons about society while cozying up to Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein. Knives Out follows suit.
The film is about a rich, white man and his rich, white family, who hope to inherit his wealth after his mysterious death. During a discussion at old Harlan Thrombey’s birthday party the night before he dies, his son-in-law and daughter-in-law get into an argument.
Richard, whom daughter-in-law Joni pejoratively refers to as red-hat wearer, echoes the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” rhetoric of the GOP. Immigrants should be rewarded for entering the country the legal way, etc.
Joni, an Instagram influencer who meditates and spouts platitudes in a way that would make Gwyneth Paltrow jealous, responds that the government is putting kids in cages.
To settle the argument, Richard calls in Marta, Harlan’s Latina nurse. She did it the right way, he explains. But Marta has a secret: Her mother is undocumented.
Marta becomes the unofficial protagonist of the film, leading detective Benoit Blanc through the idiosyncrasies of the family and ultimately to the truth of the murder. And while the film had a chance to present the liberal, excessively pro-immigration side as heroes, it turns them, as well as the right-wingers, into villains.
No one in the family can remember which country in South America Marta is from, and at least three different options are mentioned throughout the film. (Brazil? Paraguay? Educador?) When it is revealed (spoiler alert) that the unselfish Marta will receive all of Harlan’s fortune, the Thrombey family goes ballistic.
In an effort to wrest the fortune back for themselves, they threaten to expose Marta’s mother as an undocumented immigrant unless Marta gives them what they see as their rightful inheritance. All of the characters, from the MAGA ones (one of whom calls Marta an “anchor baby”) to the woke liberals, are in on the scheme. That talk about caring about immigrants seems pretty empty when one immigrant becomes an obstacle to a huge wad of cash.
Instead of using the political tension in the film to stir controversy, Knives Out plays off it for humor, particularly in the scene where the family begins fighting and hurling insults from “alt-right troll” to “SJW” student.
Everyone kind of sucks, except Marta, who, like many young immigrants in America, grew up in a difficult situation that she did not choose. The film refrains from overly politicizing her plight, but it does offer this commentary: Neither conservatives nor liberals are really on her side.
The film’s director, Rian Johnson, has said Knives Out is not a “message movie.” But, he told the Associated Press, it was important that the film seem modern.
“Right now, if you have dinner with your big family and you have a few glasses of wine, and you start arguing, guess what you’re going to be arguing about?” he asked. “It’s the same stuff we’re all arguing about. And so hopefully the movie portrays that in a way where you can go with your family and you can all kind of laugh at yourselves a little bit.”