Knives Out Analysis

I took it upon myself to go ahead and start a thread for this @JohnDusenberry. I’m ready to jump in if you are, or we can wait for others to join (anyone else seen it?)

Should we use the traditional DUG approach or try to zero in on genre?

I’ll just put this here now: obviously this movie is a mystery with twists, so if you’re reading this but haven’t seen it, don’t read on!



Yessuh, and thank you.
I am ready! Just saw it again for the second time.

I say we do the standard way… talk about things in plain English first, locate the domains and genres to zero in on the feel of the story first, then get to the problem.

So! To start things off.

MC Marta, Changed
IC Ransom, Steadfast

As charismatic as he is, pretty sure Benoit Blanc is the protagonist, with Ransom antagonist.

OS: Whodunnit: Uncovering the true nature of Harlan Thromby’s death.
MC: Marta, unknowingly framed for murder.
IC: Ransom, I’ll do whatever it takes to get back what I’m entitled to!
RS: The grand manipulation(s).
Potential Allies —> Enemies



Ransom starts pretty late, but I wonder if this will be filled out with a handoff with Harlan Thromby.

Also, Optionlock (who did it? how?)

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Well, Ransom doesn’t appear on screen until later on, yes. But he’s definitely the IC from the start. Rian just withholds that info from us in the storytelling.

If we were to map it out in the storyform in order of actual events that happened:

  • Ransom fights with Harlan at the party.
  • The he shows up, switches Marta’s drugs… is seen by granny.
  • Then he comes back, causing the dogs to bark and awaken Meg…
  • Then he skips the funeral which upsets the family, and alerts Fran that he’s up to something… etc etc

He’s not on screen because the movie is a mystery, but he’s definitely there influencing the entire time.

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Glad this is up! My favourite movie of 2019.

All of that is OS, though, isn’t it? Where is his IC perspective here?

Looking back, I think @MWollaeger is onto something. In fact, Rian Johnson basically spells out the perspectives for us with that Go board.

Despite clearly being good at it, Marta doesn’t play to win, she says she plays to make a pretty pattern. Harlan, of course, (jokingly) knocks the board over so that he can’t be beaten again. When the wrong dosage is given to him, Marta plans to do the right thing – but Harlan concocts an elaborate lie to protect her from the fallout.

When Ransom comes into the picture, he pretty much adopts that same perspective: helping Marta concoct an elaborate lie to protect her, albeit with a caveat – he’s playing the game (or the murder, if you will) to win, so he will be exonerated in the upcoming investigation and Marta will go down for it. It’s pretty much the same perspective that Harlan had: you play the game to win, no matter what.

And, of course, the big change: the honest-to-a-puke Marta ultimately doesn’t play to make a pretty pattern (aka protect the family), she lies to Ransom so he will confess and she will be exonerated. By the end of the story, she plays the game to win just as Harlan did and just as Ransom did – and she still beats them.

Admittedly, this is my simplistic way of defining the two perspectives, but I think it’s clear that there is some kind of hand-off. While Ransom is an entirely different type of character to Harlan, the perspective seems to be the same.

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Agreed – and as @jhay said, the moment that she lies to Ransom shows her change. But also the fact that she decides to accept the inheritance. (“My house, my rules”)

My own feeling was Ransom was OS, and that the real IC was Harlan. Even though he is murdered early, his huge influence is felt throughout (on Marta and on everyone) – up to the big reveal of the will. I could potentially see Ransom as a handoff though for the reasons you mention @jhay.

That’s a great metaphor, and it feels like an IC moment – he’s presenting a different approach to problem solving.

Isn’t that OS? I would put the RS squarely between Harlan and Marta. This feels like the emotional heart of the story to me. “Nurse/patient to family.”

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I could see that, actually.
Harlan even takes the time to point out how he sees a lot of himself in Ransom. Definitely a handoff there then.

But yeah! RS with Harlan and Marta for sure.

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Building on the whole “playing to win” idea…

Marta has a chance to change who she is when the nurse is dying, and she does not.

I had thought more about her ability to lie.
If she doesn’t change, who does?

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And also about her choosing not to take care of the family at the end when she claims the house for her own, and doesn’t renounce the inheritance.


Isn’t this exactly what she does at the end? Adopt their mentality of playing the game to win? Lying about the phone call to trick them, then drinking from the my house my rules mug?

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If you bookend the movie, she starts with cleaning (I think?) the “my house my rules” mug – at the very end she’s drinking from it, literally looking down on the family.

That’s definitely a change in circumstances. I guess you could argue that she was being rewarded for being steadfast (a good person?) but to me it reads as a character change. As you say, she’s learned how to play the game. But more importantly, she’s realized that her problems are not her fault, and that all the Thrombys are terrible people.

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That was Fran prepping Harlan’s mug, not Marta. It was his mug, his house, his rules.

But yes, at first it was his rules… just like Ransom’s rules. The game. And she says she doesn’t play the game to win… just make beautiful designs.
But at the end, she plays the game like they would. Adopting their rules to win. Literally ending with her drinking from Harlan’s mug about his rules.

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You know what, yes. She lies intentionally. Change. I even thought that when I was watching the movie!

I’m assuming we’re going to be able to work this into her Unique Ability somehow.

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I can’t wait to add “puking in response to lying” to the gists in subtext. Hahaha

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Does this make her a be-er (internalizes lying to the point of vomiting) who changes to a do-er (lies intentionally and then clamps her jaws)?


Is it too early to jump ahead? In my own test storyform for this Dramatica already told me that her Unique Ability was Falsehood. Which, BTW puts her in Mind – so:

Well, let’s narrow in on the domains to help determine what her preference would be.

So what’s bringing her the most conflict? Operating under the misunderstanding that she killed Harlan? Being framed for murder and unknowingly playing the game?


(In groups, I find jumping ahead a straight path to chaos, but I also think we need to practice thinking holistically and fully endorse jumping ahead.)

ETA: Puking is also potentially her Critical Flaw, since it allows her to be manipulated easily…

I agree. It’s hard to resist tinkering when you’re doing it online and there are time gaps in responses. But I’ve definitely made the mistake of getting ahead of myself in the past and then it’s hard to let go of ideas even if they’re wrong.

Do we start with the OS then? Or did you mean trying to figure out Marta first? (I’ve listened to DUG but I never remember the right order).