Alternative Insight

The Film Knives Out
What You See Cannot  be What is  

Something wrong when rave reviews for a “who dunnit” do not consider that there are no clues leading to the given solution, some clues leading to another solution, and substantial errors in the narrative that lead to no solution. Knives Out’s twists do not arise from circumstances; the circumstances are conveniently manufactured to engineer a twisting plot. Combine these failures with errors in the film narrative and Knives Out does not satisfy The film can be rescued if what we think we see is not what is actually happening; maybe there is another explanation to “who dunnit.”

Critics have not mentioned the excessive errors in the film narrative. Sure, just a movie, but of a genre that should be exacting?

  1. Ransom, the pronounced murderer, has switched the medicines given to his grandfather, Harlan Thombey, each evening by  nurse attendant, Marta. To prevent Marta from giving an antidote to a deadly drug, he also removes the antidote for the deadly medicine from Marta’s bag.
  2.  According to Marta, when giving Harlan his nightly medicine, she “accidentally” selected the wrong medicine and created a double switch. Although she sensed she has given Harlan excessive morphine she has, unknown to her,  given Harlan the correct medicine. Harlan, who believes he is dying from an overdose, calmly tells her not to call 911 and leave the house so everyone knows she has left at a defined time. Regardless of the motive that drives Harlan, there is an error. Why would Harlan, who had deleted his children from his will and left everything to Marta, not question if Marta had deliberately given him the wrong medicine, and why did he suddenly not mind dying?  Or, if he had been told he was injected with an overdose of morphine, why would he believe  he was protecting her -- if true, the autopsy will show excessive morphine and Marta will be accused of giving an overdose. In addition, why did Marta, knowing Harlan was dying, accede to his wishes? Is fear that her relatives would be exposed as illegal aliens (according to what she claimed Harlan told her) more important than Harlan’s life? Would not a normal person immediately call 911 or drive a dying person to the nearest hospital.
  3. Harlan asks Marta to return by climbing a trellis on the side of the house that leads to a window entrance and to a secret door. This secret door has no significance except to allow a convenient means to permit Marta to return undetected by not goiing through the main entrance door. Convenient to have a secret door to move the plot.
  4. After she returns, according to Marta, Harlan, asks for one of his knives, and with Marta watching, slits his own throat. Is it possible that an octogenarian, weak from an accident, could effectively slit his own throat and that Marta would obediently allow it to happen?
  5. The lawyer gathers all and recites the will. After learning she inherits everything, Marta is tricked to confess to Ransom, Harlan’s wayward grandson, who had changed the medicines, that she administered the wrong drug, which almost accidentally killed Harlan before he took his own life. Because Ransom had already switched the medicines, he knows Marta did not administer a fatal dose. Rather than informing Marta, he tells her he will keep quiet if she gives him fifty percent of the inheritance
  6. The entire building housing the autopsies (contains toxicology report that shows Harlan did not perish from any drug) and death records, which are usually kept in metal and fireproof cabinets burns down. Is it that easy to burn down an entire building and destroy vital records?
  7. Marta receives a message, ostensibly from housekeeper Fran, who witnessed Ransom going through Marta's medical bag. The message says that she (convenient to the plot) knew what happened, and asks to meet Marta at a specified time in a specified location. Fran also has a copy of the toxicology report (which will exonerate Marta of carelessness). Before that can happen, the police detain Marta and Ransom, separate them, and drive each to the police station. Because the car in which Marta is riding is conveniently passing near to the place where Fran is waiting, and conveniently, at close to the arranged time, Marta, wanting to meet Fran, asks Benoit if she can stop for a moment and do an errand. Benoit conveniently obliges (why??) and Marta races through “short cuts” and confronts Fran in an abandoned place. How did Marta quickly locate the strange meeting place? Fran is near dying from an obvious attack and Marta calls 911, who rush Fran to a hospital.
  8. The toxicology report, which leads to Fran's murder, is essential to carry the plot, but has faults.
    The toxicologist, coroner, and undoubtedly the police are all aware of the report. With its contents known to several persons, why would Fran give it any importance, and why would anyone be interested in destroying the report? Why would Fran blackmail Ransom, who did not receive an inheritance and has little money?  Even if Fran goes to the police and tells them what she believes Ransom did (only her word), they will ask, "Why so late?" She has no credibility.
  9. Benoit in a confrontation with Ransom, Marta, and others, with almost no real direct evidence, solves all the mysteries. He, somehow, knows that Ransom switched the medicines. Believing that Fran intended to blackmail him with the toxicology report that would have proven Marta's innocence, Ransom met her two hours before Marta arrived and overdosed Fran with morphine. He also set the medical examiner's office on fire, destroying all samples and records, so Marta’s innocence could not be discovered. Unexplained is why Ransom would use a slow killing morphine to murder Fran.
  10. Knowing that unless Fran lives and testifies, there is little direct evidence to convict him, Ransom maintains his innocence. A call from the hospital, which Marta answers, relates that Fran, although deceased, is all right and will recover. With that information, Ransom immediately and conveniently admits his guilt – rather far-fetched to do that immediately, for no reason and without a lawyer.
  11. What was Ransom concerned about? The entire episode with the toxicology report is meaningless, and becomes the key to finding the criminal. Harlan died of a knife wound and not from toxic poisoning. Ransom had no problem with the law, until killing Fran for no reason.
  12. Investigator Benoit learns that the unidentified person who hired him is Ransom, reason being that Ransom believes that Benoit's investigation will find the toxicology report and assume Marta is the killer. Why did Ransom need investigator Benoit? Why did he not ask for a toxicology report by himself, or ask someone else to obtain the report? The film also has the investigator proving the guilt of his own client -- a first in murder mysteries.
  13. Marta inherits all the estate and stands triumphantly on the balcony with a mug showing writing of “My house,” which indicates that everything now belongs to her.

Knives Out does not hold together and depends too much on convenient coincidences and unexplained actions to qualify as a satisfying “who dunnit,” that is, if we accept what we see and have been told as the logical explanations for the murder mystery. Maybe, there is a more satisfying and more logical explanation. Three clues tell a different story.

Was Marta's changing of the medicines an accident? She vomited when not telling the truth (without food?), but could that have been only an act so that when she lied, her falsehoods became undetectable.

Which is more believable -- a normal person following orders that assure the death of the person giving the orders or  a diabolical person following the same orders because of wanting the death? We only have a recitation of the events, including searching for the antidote, all of which may be false.

Another clue – in the finale when she stands triumphantly on the balcony with a cup that has written on it “My House,” we see a different Marta, not the shy and obedient Marta, but, a calculating Marta.

An alternative scenario has Marta drugging Harlan, quickly leaving to establish an alibi, returning to administer an antidote, which she knows will be too late, panicks when she finds him well and cannot find the antidote, and then slits his throat -- rather gruesome. Stilll a little shaky, but, at least those twists, if accepted, enable Knives Out to become a successful "who dunnit."

Makes for a more twisting murder mystery when the criminal outwits the detective.

alternative insight
december 27, 2019

slightly updated august 21, 2020




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