Netflix buys Knives Out for a staggering $450 million: the United States under the magnifying glass once more
It’s confirmed: two sequels to the Oscar-nominated murder-mystery Knives Out are in production! Last month, Netflix bought the rights to Knives Out for a staggering $450 million in the most expensive film purchase in history.
In this classic Agatha Christie whodunnit infused with political commentary, successful murder mystery-writer Harlan (Christopher Plummer) dies suddenly, exposing family tensions in his wake.
Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), an accomplished private detective with a charming southern accent, is tasked with exploring each family member’s motive for murder.
In a skilfully crafted case of dramatic irony, the audience is shown flashbacks to the day of the incident. What the audience doesn’t expect is that the information fed to them isn’t entirely reliable, and that they’re being played the whole time.
Rated 7.9 on IMDB and 97% on Rotten Tomatoes, the film was greeted by the rare combination of both critical and public acclaim. The film earned writer/director Johnson a nomination for Best Original Screenplay at the 92nd Academy Awards and redeemed him from the release of Star Wars (Episode VIII): The Last Jedi.
When I first watched the film last year, I was impressed by its sophisticated discussion of America’s turbulent relationship with immigration. There is no doubt that immigration is central to American identity. The official motto of the United States - “E Pluribus Unum” (Out of Many, One) - promotes the idea that American identity is based on shared values, as opposed to blood, race, ethnicity, colour, religion or birth nation. The United States even goes as far as to define itself as ‘a nation of .
However, America’s relationship with immigration isn’t as simple as that. In 2019, when Knives Out was released, President Trump had decisively moved US immigration policy towards the exclusionist culture typical of decades past. A travel ban, the end of birth right citizenship and the infamous wall between the US and Mexico were all policies proposed during Trump’s administration. Less than an hour into the movie, the family engage in a heated discussion on immigration – reflecting conversations taking place in homes across the nation.
The character of Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas) allows Johnson to inject social commentary into a quintessential murder-mystery plot. Marta’s mother emigrated to the US illegally - a narrative shared with the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States in 2019. Donald Trump’s rhetoric on platforms such as Twitter strengthened the perceived relationship between immigration and crime. Johnson’s decision to portray Marta as a kind-hearted, educated nurse who is arguably a greater asset to America than the whole family put together, provides the audience with a refreshingly positive representation of immigrants.
To add to this, Johnson cleverly applies Knives Out to the topic of white privilege. There is no doubt in the audience’s mind that the family are successful when Harlan leaves his publishing company, estate and $60 million to Marta Cabrera in his will. However, privilege does not fit comfortably into the American ideal of the self-made man. Therefore, Harlan’s children rewrite their narratives to fit with what is socially acceptable. Linda Drysdale (Jamie Lee Curtis) claims to have built her business from the ground up – omitting from her narrative the £1 million dollar loan from her father.
In this respect, Meg (Katherine Langford) is a particularly nuanced character – yet one many are familiar with in their daily lives. In the film's opening scenes, Meg publicly shames a police officer for referring to Marta as ‘the help’ - establishing her liberal character. Yet, as soon as her college education is on the line, Meg abandons her liberal morals and uses the undocumented status of Marta’s family to preserve her family’s fortune and status.
Whilst it was disappointing to hear that the Thrombey family (and it's A-list cast) won’t be returning for the sequels, this isn’t 2019. Hours into his presidency, President Biden took executive action to reverse Donald Trump’s immigration policies. The United States isn’t faced with the same concerns as two years ago, and I’m excited to see what issues Johnson will explore next. The Black Lives Matter movement, the climate crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic... there’s certainly enough material to work with.
Will Netflix do the series justice, allowing the continuation of Johnson’s subtle political commentary, or will we be left longing for the days before this cinematic masterpiece was tainted by sequel culture?