Rian Johnson’s Knives Out is one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year as well as a favorite among film audiences. The inventive homage to classic whodunnit murder mysteries focuses on a successful author who dies at a family gathering and his dysfunctional relatives become the suspects.
The all-star cast and witty humor make it a fun ride from beginning to end, but the brilliantly constructed mystery is what demands you watch the movie again. With plenty of fun hints and jokes, there’s a lot to get out of repeat viewings. Here are some hidden details you missed in Knives Out.
Updated on June 29th, 2022 by Colin McCormick: With the recent announcement that the Knives Out sequel will be entitled Glass Onion, fans of the original have likely revisited the murder mystery. And it is the kind of movie that demands to be watched multiple times as it reveals something new each time. Rian Johnson has included so many fun hints and clues throughout the film that we thought it was necessary to add a few more fun hidden details to this list.
When we first get a glimpse inside the Thrombey mansion, which is the main setting of the film, one of the first things we notice is the large portrait of the family patriarch, Harlan Thrombey. The stern and stoic look of Harlan in this picture seems to suggest he is the intimidating figure overlooking everything.
However, when we see the painting near the end of the film, something has changed about it. Once Marta is cleared of all wrong-doing and takes control of the house, she goes to look at the portrait. The stern, serious look on Harlan’s face is now replaced with an approving smirk.
Different Versions Of The Same Story
When we are first introduced to the large Thrombey family, they don’t necessarily seem like bad people. However, their self-centered and conniving ways soon begin to shine through. Of course, Rian Johnson does hint at this early on.
When each of the Thrombey children tells their version of the night of Harlan’s birthday party, we see their version of the events with one small detail that keeps changing. Each of the children pictures themselves at Harlan’s side when the cake comes hinting that they are now trying to present themselves as the perfect children.
Harlan Thrombey’s Name
Though he doesn’t last long in the movie, Harlan Thrombey is an essential part of the story and the late Christopher Plummer does a great job of giving the character gravitas and warmth in the role.
But as for Harlan’s unusual name, it seems as though Johnson was inspired by an obscure source. There was a choose-you-own-adventure novel called Who Killed Harlowe Thrombey? which seems to be a clear homage.
Something Is Afoot
At the end of the film, Marta asks Benoit Blanc when he began suspecting that she had something to do with Harlan’s death. He says when he first met her, he immediately noticed the spot of blood on her shoe.
Looking back at that scene where they meet for the first time, Blanc does take an extra look at her feet. He also seems to hint at this knowledge throughout the film without Marta knowing. He continues to make comments like “Something is afoot” or “the game is afoot” directed to Marta and hinting at the major clue he has noticed.
Richard Disrespects Marta
While most of the Thrombey family is innocent of murder, that doesn’t actually make them good people. Early in the movie, the family talks often about how they like Marta and see her as one of the family. This quickly changes when Marta is made the heir to Harlan’s fortune, but there were hints even before that.
During a flashback to the party, Richard calls Marta over to join their ignorant conversation about immigration. As they talk, he absent-mindedly hands Marta his dirty plate, showing that he sees her as little more than “the help” even though she is Harlan’s personal nurse.
Along with the movie taking the title from a Radiohead song, Johnson also used music that happened to align with a few important aspects of the mystery at hand. When Marta and Ransom are in the bar and Gordon Lightfoot’s “Sundown” is playing which features the lyrics “if I find you creepin’ ’round my back stairs,” similar to Marta sneaking into the house.
The movie ends with The Rolling Stones’ “Sweet Virginia which features the lyrics, “got to scrape that shit right off your shoe” which speaks to the incriminating blood on Marta’s shoe.
With so much going on in the film, it’s easy to overlook the brilliant payoffs in some of the smaller subplots. One such subplot involves Harlan revealing to his daughter Linda that her husband Richard was having an affair. As it turns out, Richard played a major hand in causing Linda to find out.
After Richard sees the letter Harlan wrote to Linda is apparently blank, he throws Harlan’s baseball out the window. Blanc later finds the ball and throws it for the dog. The dog later brings the ball to Linda who returns it to Harlan’s office, where she finds the letter. If Richard hadn’t thrown the ball, the letter might have gone unnoticed.
The Missing Phone
This is an interesting hidden detail revealed by Rian Johnson himself and one that he admits could spoil many movies in the future.
Most of the characters in the film are seen constantly on their phones, all of which are iPhones. One character we don’t see using such a phone is Ransom, who later turns out to be the real killer. Oddly enough, this was a requirement as Apple does not allow villains in movies to use their products, therefore revealing Ransom’s evil ways.
Great Nana Wanetta
The Thrombey family is filled with interesting and hilarious characters. But perhaps the most underrated of the bunch is Great Nana Wanetta. Great Nana is an impossibly old woman who can barely hear and whose eyesight is not much better. Despite all of that, she inadvertently helps solve the case with that poor eyesight yet sharp memory.
Great Nana is played by K Callan, a prolific actor who has appeared in shows like Veep and Justified in recent years. Interestingly enough, though Great Nana is meant to be the mother of Harlan Thrombey, played by Christopher Plummer, Callan is actually a few years younger than Plummer.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Cameo
While there is no shortage of stars in the film, fans of Johnson’s films might have noticed the absence of one particular actor. Joseph Gordon-Levitt starred in Johnson’s first film Brick and has since appeared in some fashion in every one of his films.
Well, the trend was kept up in Knives Out even though it is one of his most inconspicuous appearances. Gordon-Levitt is credited as Detective Hardrock, but it is just his voice we hear as the policeman on the crime show Marta’s sister is watching at the beginning of the movie.
Marta’s Home Country
One of the great surprises of the film is that with all the eccentric members of the family, the story is really about Harlan’s nurse, Marta (a breakout role for Ana de Armas). Through Marta’s character, the film touches on interesting issues about class and race in the subtle ways the family treats Marta.
Though she is constantly told she is one of the family, it’s clear no one besides Harlan actually cares enough to learn about Marta or her life. Throughout the film, members of the Thrombey family make mention of Marta’s home country, except each time they are naming a different South American country. It’s later implied that Marta was born in America.
Johnson seems to enjoy filling his movies with talented actors who go under the radar. Sadly, one such actor was meant to appear in Knives Out but never got the chance. Ricky Jay was a great character actor known for roles in Deadwood and Boogie Nights among many others. He was also a talented sleight-of-hand magician and consulted on Johnson’s film Brothers Bloom.
Jay was originally meant to play Mr. Prufrock, the Thrombey security guard but he passed away before filming started. Another fine character actor M. Emmett Walsh took the part, but an image of Jay appears onscreen just before Walsh first appears
Though there are many famous faces in the movie, one celebrity cast member might have gone unnoticed by audiences. Though his name is famous, his face isn’t often seen on screen. Frank Oz, the man behind Miss Piggy and Yoda, appears as the lawyer who presents Harlan’s will to the family.
Oz met Rian Johnson while working on Star Wars: The Last Jedi where they became friends. Johnson convinced Oz to play a small role in this film despite Oz’s dislike of appearing on camera. In fact, this marks Oz’s first film appearance in over 20 years.
The Donut Hole
As renowned private detective Benoit Blanc, Daniel Craig gets the chance to show off his funny side and has a lot of fun with the role. His long, rambling way of talking can sometimes seem crazy but with shades of brilliance. One of his most memorable scenes is his epic and hilarious rant about the mystery being a donut.
Though it’s a little hard to follow Blanc’s thinking, the analogy surprisingly makes sense. But Johnson also added in a bit of fun with the ring of knives that is present in many scenes. The monument is front and center in the interrogation scenes as well as the final reveal of the killer and when stepping back, it does resemble a big donut made of knives.
Harlan’s Letter To Linda
While the big reveal at the end of the movie is Ransom’s guilt, another secret is revealed when Linda Drysdale finds her father’s letter with the invisible ink which details her husband’s affair. But while only Linda knew about Harlan’s secret way of communicating, there was an earlier hint.
When Richard finds the seemingly empty letter in Harlan’s office, he thinks he was bluffing about exposing the truth to Linda. But there is a moment when the sunlight catches the paper and briefly reveals the letters on it.
With such a big cast filled with interesting characters, Johnson not only resolves the central mystery but also several of the fun side stories as well. For instance, we learn early in the movie that Richard (Don Johnson) is having an affair that Harlan threatens to expose in a letter to Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis).
Though Richard finds the letter after Harlan’s death and sees that it’s blank, it’s revealed Harlan would write letters to Linda in invisible ink and the secret is discovered. The last shot of Richard shows him sporting a black eye, presumably courtesy of Linda.
Johnson found a brilliant way to create a totally new approach to the whodunnit story while also being able to have fun with the genre conventions. Very early in the film, we seem to be told exactly who is responsible for Harlan’s death. But in the end, the truth is revealed that Ransom (Chris Evans) did have a hand to play in it all along.
Just like any good mystery, this reveal was hinted at throughout the movie. One of the best examples is the barking dogs heard the night of the murder. When Ransom first appears in the film, he is greeted by the barking dogs, telling us he was sneaking around the night of Harlan’s death.
Johnson’s script is filled with so much fun foreshadowing and clues that really make repeat viewings more fun. There are not only hints to Ransom being the real culprit, but also to his eventual downfall.
After Blanc lays out all the evidence pointing to Ransom and Marta tricks him into admitting to Fran’s murder, Ransom tries to take his revenge. He grabs a knife from the “knife donut” and attempts to stab Marta, only to discover the knife is fake. Earlier, Harlan criticizes Ransom’s protected lifestyle saying he is unable to tell the difference between a stage prop and a real knife.
Knives Out For Marta
The image of the chair made of knives is certainly a memorable part of the movie while also resembling the Iron Throne from Game of Thrones. But as it is seen throughout the early interrogation scenes, it serves as a fitting bit of storytelling as well.
Though the chair is off to the side when everyone else is being interviewed, Marta is shown to be sitting as if her head is the center of the circle. It helps to show her own tension with getting found out, for4shadows the family turning on her, and also foreshadows Ransom’s attempt on her life at the end of the movie.
How Marta Plays The Game
Marta really is the heart of the movie and a character who is extremely easy to root for. We want her to get away with covering her own incriminating tracks and we want to see good things happen to her. She is a good person surrounded by selfish and dishonest people.
Early in the film, Marta and Harlan are playing “Go” and Harlan says he can’t understand how she keeps beating him. She responds “Because I’m not playing to beat you. I’m playing to build a beautiful pattern.” In the end, everyone else was trying to get what they wanted while Marta was just trying to do the right thing. And she wins again.
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