Knives Out


Knives Out was a gorgeous film. I enjoyed it immensely even if for me it failed to deliver the truth. So what? What films do that? But detective stories are supposed to do that. Aren’t they?

The film is a fine replica of an Agatha Christies’ whodunit. The setting is in and around a modern gothic New England manor home where the family of a wealthy author, Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), have gathered for his 85th birthday. And, of course, the patriarch dies. At first it seems to be a suicide, but we all know better without knowing anything.

Around a reading of the will, the family is unsurprisingly a bunch of predatory rats. They are called “self-made over-achievers.” None is as appealing as last week’s laundry. As was said, “a will reading is like community theatre production of a tax return.” But in this case that is an underestimate as we get to watch the family teeth come out.

There is one sympathetic character Marta (Ana de Armas) the nurse of the writer. She has a surprising characteristic. She has a “regurgitative reaction to mistruths.” In other words she vomits whenever she hears a lie. Blanc says, “Cruel or comforting this machine unerringly arrives at the truth. That’s what it does.” What Detective would not pay a handsome fee for that? What philosopher would not like such a machine? Or theologian. Or maybe  they might not want it.

The detective is Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), smirking, smoking cigars flipping coins and bumbling towards the truth. He has an unlikely southern accent. One of the sons, Ransom (Chris Evans) calls him the “CSI-KFC.” Blanc assures the family “my being here is purely ornamental, I am a quiet passive observer of the truth.” Just like us in the audience. Isn’t that what we all want to be?

There is a second peculiar mystery. Why is he there? There are police in charge of the investigation but they lean on Blanc even though he does not seem to be the sharpest pencil in the case. Who hired him and why?

The detective story is of course a classic genre if there ever was one. A search for the holy grail of truth. The detective has the task of leading us to it. That’s his job. As Benoit says, “this is a twisted world and we’re not finished untangling it yet.” He also said something like: ‘we must be patient until the truth slides off Gravity’s rainbow to subdue the sodden earth.’ I hope I got that line right. That line puzzled me. The rainbow of the book, I have been told, was the shape of the Nazi V2 rockets of World War II that everyone feared but  ultimately failed to deliver their cargo of deaths because the allies captured the facilities before they were ever used. Most think the shape of the rockets is the basis for the name of the book–Gravity’s Rainbow.

As Thomas Pynchon said in that book,

“But it is a curve each of them feels, unmistakably. It is the parabola. They must have guessed, once or twice—guessed and refused to believe—that everything, always, collectively, had been moving toward that purified shape latent in the sky, that shape of no surprise, no second chances, no return. Yet they do move forever under it, reserved for its own black-and-white bad news certainly as if it were the Rainbow, and they its children. . . ”

The rainbow then was the shape of death. Or perhaps, near death, something not as a fierce. Or maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about.

2 thoughts on “Knives Out

  1. fyi, i have not seen that film.
    is not the detective genre there precisely to make us believe that if we try hard enough we can solve life’s mysteries, find the truth?

    as for art/cinema/movies i am not sure i ever thought they would tell me the truth. that seems more of a metaphysical/moral matter, no?
    please elaborate on whether/how art is supposed to be true.

    1. I disagree. I think art is where we turn for truth. I will take up your challenge and say why or how I think art can bring us to truth. I shall follow John Keats.

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