‘Knives Out’: Rian Johnson Explains How He Built a Modern Murder Mystery (Spoilers)

IndieWire | 12/6/2019 | Staff
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Filmmaker Rian Johnson grew up reading and watching Agatha Christie-style mysteries. With his “Knives Out,” he wanted to translate his love of the whodunit in the form of a modern update, but he also went into the creative process fully aware of some of the inherent flaws and difficulties with the genre itself.

“As much as I love Agatha Christie’s books, in a lot of them there does hit a point about three-quarters of the way through where you start to flag,” said Johnson when he was a guest on the Filmmaker Toolkit podcast. “And you start to feel like, ‘Ah, yeah, okay, we just keep gathering clues, I’m never going to guess this. Let’s just get to the point where the detective gives me the solution.'”

Hitchcock - Whodunit - Problem - Difference - Audience

Hitchcock, who hated the whodunit, defined this problem as the difference between audience surprise versus what he did, which was build suspense. When Johnson started conceiving of “Knives Out,” he wondered if he could structure a film that could do both. “This is the idea I had 10 years ago,” said Johnson. “Can I do something that starts as a whodunit, turns into a Hitchcock thriller, but then turns back into a whodunit at the end?”

Just like in the classic TV show “Columbo,” the trick was showing the audience the murder itself, leading to the suspense of how the killer would be caught. But Johnson wanted to walk an even more difficult tightrope: Could he show that Marta (Ana de Armas) was responsible for the death, although ultimately she wasn’t (setting up the third act return to the whodunit), and still put the audience in a position of hoping the truth would never come out?

Percent - Conflict - Thing

“It’s crucial that we begin with you feeling 100 percent, without any conflict, that the right thing to happen is for...
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