One of my favorite places on Earth is a warehouse in Chelsea in New York City. This warehouse is home to Sleep No More, a mind-bending immersive theater piece. The show spans five stories, a score of characters, and tens of luxuriously decorated rooms to explore. Your job, as an audience member, is to create your own narrative by physically following characters, props, and motifs of your choice from scene to scene, until you can piece together relationships between people and objects, and past to present.
Knives Out gives the audience these same choices. Do you follow the convoluted path of a baseball, lobbed out a window in anger? Can you track where a splintered piece of wood stays, waiting to be discovered at a key moment? How quickly can you map out the rooms of this elaborately decorated mansion? And most importantly, how does the past inform what’s happening to the characters in the present?
The characters in this meticulously crafted whodunnit are constantly in the shadow of misdeeds they’ve committed; mistakes, schemes, and crimes weigh on the souls of the Thrombey family, and, as each of these revelations is delivered to the audience, we begin to wonder not who the guilty party is, but if there are any innocent people left in the Thrombey estate.
Rian Johnson’s new film reveals a pattern of his; from Looper to Star Wars: The Last Jedi to Knives Out, Johnson is concerned with the ways our past, on both an individual and societal level, affects our future. Even the cinematography itself reflects this, an innovative use of digital techniques made to look like old-school film on a projector. The death of the Thrombey patriarch gives many characters an opportunity to redefine their pasts, to ignore their sins, to take credit for victories that may not be theirs. But, in the end, whether the killer is revealed and whether they are brought to justice, is irrelevant. The true culprit is more insidious: it’s the shared past of the Thrombeys; it’s their self-importance, their unearned wealth, their subtle white supremacy, and their need to win an imaginary fight.
If the movie sounds like a downer, don’t worry. This film is a blast. I’ve been to see Knives Out five times so far, catching new pieces of dialogue in the background of scenes, tracing the meaning of props and paintings, and relishing the performance of a stunning cast who could not possibly be having more fun. Every time I see this film, I get hyped for a new opportunity to watch Daniel Craig’s captivating and ridiculous Southern accent, and for Ana de Armas’s star turn in a beautiful one-on-one scene with Christopher Plummer in his study. This is, bar none, the most fun you’ll get from a 2019 film in the theater, and it simply must be viewed at a theater. The laughs, quiet sobs, and gasps that have erupted out of each audience I watched this with reminded me how important seeing movies with other people truly is. And this is the only time you’ll listen to a self-proclaimed genius reference Gravity’s Rainbow without rolling your eyes, so there’s gotta be something to that? 🙂