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Small Details That Slipped By You In Knives Out

With any good murder mystery movie, you want to pay close attention as you look for clues. Who had the means, motive, and opportunity? The audience is meant to connect the dots as they try to unravel the case, and "Knives Out" is nearly perfect in this regard. Written and directed by Rian Johnson, the smart murder mystery was released in 2019 and quickly earned significant acclaim. With a charming ensemble cast of stars including Daniel Craig, Jaime Lee Curtis, Chris Evans, LaKeith Stanfield, and Ana de Armas, the story keeps you guessing at every turn. 

When renowned crime novelist Harlan Thrombey is found dead after his 85th birthday, Detective Benoit Blanc (Craig), "the last of the gentleman sleuths," is brought in by an anonymous client to investigate. Thrombey's nurse, Marta (de Armas), ends up at the center of the drama, and the mystery slowly unravels around her. The family relationships are messy, the dialogue is witty, and there are lots of small details to find that make successive viewings just as enjoyable as the first. With that in mind, settle in for a rewatch and put your sleuthing skills to the test, because we're going to unravel some easy-to-miss details and clues in "Knives Out."

Everyone recounts the birthday party differently

When Lieutenant Elliot (LaKeith Stanfield) questions each family member about Harlan Thrombey's birthday party early on in "Knives Out," he doesn't seem to be getting the straight truth. Sure, most of the important information adds up, but everyone seems to be putting a different spin on their relationship with Harlan. It can be fun when a mystery shows different accounts of the event, especially when the differences are subtle in movies like "Knives Out."

For example, both Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Walt (Michael Shannon) express how important they were to dear old Dad. In their recountings of the party, they're both shown close by Harlan's side when the cake is presented, hinting that they are his favorites. Joni (Toni Collette) also exaggerates how loving her relationship is with the family. She claims to be loved and respected, but different accounts reveal that isn't the case. As the saying goes, there are three sides to every story — yours, mine, and the truth.

Harlan's portrait finds peace

At the very beginning of "Knives Out," we see a huge portrait of Harlan Trombey hanging in one of the downstairs hallways. There are a couple of other stray shots of it throughout the film, and while Marta is waiting for her turn with Detective Blanc, she uncomfortably stares at the painting. Each time we see the portrait, there's an indistinguishable expression on Harlan's face. Is he perplexed, sad, or just a bit gassy? The last time we see the painting is once all parties have gotten what they deserve at the end of the film, and the expression Harlan wears in it is different and quite clear; a satisfied smirk says it all.

Rian Johnson told Vanity Fair that the painting wasn't ready when they started shooting the film. "Every single shot that you see in the movie that has the painting in it was a green screen." Once the painting was finally completed, the special effects department went in and replaced each green screen shot with a photo of the painting. Of course, movie magic doesn't explain how the portrait's expression manages to change, but it's still a satisfying little detail.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is hidden in the film

No, you didn't blink and miss Joseph Gordon-Levitt during any pivotal moments in "Knives Out." But if you listen closely, you will hear his familiar voice. In one scene, while Marta and her family are sitting in their kitchen, Marta's sister watches television. Her mother scolds her for being insensitive by watching a show about murder while her sister is grieving her friend's death. Gordon-Levitt voices the unseen detective in the fake TV show, who's officially credited as Detective Hardrock.

Gordon-Levitt starred in Rian Johnson's first film, "Brick," in 2005, playing the main character Brenden in the neo-noir mystery. Ever since, the actor has found a way into each of his director friend's films. "Funnily enough, and folks may or may not know this, I've actually gotten to cameo in every single one of Rian Johnson's films, from "Brick" to "The Brothers Bloom" and even "Star Wars: The Last Jedi," Gordon-Levitt said in a 2021 interview with Us Weekly. "It's a tradition that I hope we get to keep up." The duo's most famous collaboration is probably the sci-fi action thriller "Looper," which stars Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis.

No one actually knows where Marta is from

The Thrombey family spends a great deal of time trying to convince Detective Blanc, as well as themselves, how accepting they are of Harlan's nurse Marta. Despite referring to her as "family" and telling her how good they've been to her, no one takes the time to actually get to know her. That is, except for Harlan himself, who seems to be quite fond of Marta — someone he treats more like a companion than an employee.

According to the clueless family members, Marta might be from Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, or some other South or Central American country, though it's later suggested that Marta was actually born in the United States. Clearly, the family's attempts at inclusivity are strictly performative, and Marta isn't even allowed to attend Harlan's funeral. Linda's husband Richard (Don Johnson) mentions to the police how welcoming they've been to Marta, but the example shown in flashback is later revealed to be a ruse. During a rather insensitive conversation about immigration, Richard does indeed call Marta over to join the others, but only to compel her into helping him prove a point. He says that her family immigrated "the right way," then absent-mindedly hands her a dirty dish. So much for family ties.

Blanc notices more than you think

Once everything is wrapped up tight and Marta is no longer in danger of puking, she asks Blanc when he first began to suspect her involvement in Harlan's death. He says that he immediately noticed the speck of blood on her white canvas sneakers the first time he saw her. That moment isn't super obvious, but it's there. When Marta comes outside to formally meet Blanc, he glances at her feet for a beat or two and presumably sees the blood there. 

Marta gets the blood on her shoe by unfortunately being in the room with Harlan at the exact moment he slits his throat. There's no attention drawn to the blood in that moment, nor is there any real time paid to it later when Blanc notices. One may wonder if the detective commonly uses the phrase "something is afoot' in reference to Sherlock Holmes, or if he was being cheeky by making a sly reference to Marta's shoes. Either way, it's a clever little detail.

Baseball isn't for everyone

Among the various knick-knacks scattered around his office, Harlan Thrombey keeps an old baseball on his desk. No one ever comes right out and says it, but it seems to have some significant sentimental value to him. When Richard opens the envelope meant to inform Linda of his infidelity, he's relieved to find a blank page. Feeling like he's dodged a bullet, he throws the baseball out the window as a way to get back at Harlan for making him sweat. 

The baseball lands on the lawn, where Blanc later finds it and puts it in his pocket. The detective carries the ball around for most of the film until one of the dogs wants to play fetch, prompting Blanc to toss it. One of the dogs brings the ball back to Linda later, who returns it to its original home on her father's desk. There she finds the mangled envelope meant for her. It's a convoluted chain of events, but basically, it's Richard's own fault that Linda finds out about his affair, which is classic poetic justice.

Harlan and Linda's secret communication

When Linda Drysdale talks about her close relationship with her father, she mentions that they have their own "secret way of communicating". She doesn't go into detail, but a few scenes later, she's shown getting teary over a stack of old letters from her father. If you look closely, you can see slight burn marks on the letters, suggesting that a lighter or flame of some sort had been held too close. 

If you recall, Harlan threatens Linda's husband Richard with a sealed envelope addressed to Linda. Harlan tells him that all of the nasty details of his affair are in the letter, so Richard had better come clean before he decides to deliver it. Eventually, Richard sneaks into Harlan's office to open the letter, only to find a blank page. Fast forward to later in the film when Linda finds the mangled envelope, and she takes a lighter to the blank page, revealing that she and her father's secret way of communicating was with invisible ink, which becomes visible when exposed to high heat. If you knew what to look for in the early shots of her old letters, you might have been able to guess at this strategy from the start.

Linda gets payback

Once the truth about Harlan Thrombey's death is revealed and Ransom is arrested, we see the family waiting outside the author's house. As Ransom's parents, Linda and Richard are certainly in a complex emotional state already, but Richard's wounds seem to be physical as well. When he turns around to reveal his face in the shot, he's seen sporting a pretty gnarly black eye — presumably a gift from Linda bestowed after discovering his infidelity. 

In an earlier scene, Linda steps outside for a smoke and uses her lighter to reveal what her father wrote in his last letter to her. Once she makes the ink visible and reads his words, she angrily shouts Richard's name. He turns around to see Linda with the letter and the realization of his fate slowly creeps across his face. Linda having a mean left hook is the most reasonable explanation behind his new bruise, though the film never confirms this explicitly.

A clue to who hired Detective Blanc

One of the main mysteries of "Knives Out" is who actually hired Detective Blanc. When he shows up on the scene, he doesn't even know who hired him. He simply receives a newspaper clipping about Harlan's death and an envelope full of cash, which is apparently more than enough for him to take interest. Upon meeting Blanc, Joni and Linda both recognize him because of an article written about him in "The New Yorker." It's a small detail, but one that comes into play later on.

After Marta receives a blackmail note on Harlan's toxicology report, she takes it to Ransom, mistakenly believing that she can trust him. As Ransom looks the note over, several copies of "The New Yorker" can be seen just within the frame on his coffee table. These well-placed magazines suggest that he regularly reads the publication, so he must have been aware of Blanc before enacting his plan to kill Harlan. Of course, Ransom is ultimately revealed to be the one who hired the detective, which comes back to bite him at the end of "Knives Out."

Ransom is missing a jug

Judging by the decor of Ransom's house, he seems to be a bit of a minimalist. Even though we only spend a short amount of time in his home, it's noticeably neat and orderly. All of his decorations have clean and simple lines, including the row of empty amber jugs on his credenza. If you look closely during Marta's visit, however, you can tell that one of the jugs is clearly missing. At first glance, this detail might seem meaningless, but it gains new significance later on during Detective Blanc's unraveling of the case. 

All of the jugs are present and accounted for when Ransom is shown stuffing cash in an envelope for Blanc. They're also all there when he gets the blackmail note from Fran. And yet, later on, one of them is gone. "If you take a look in the background, notice there's a jug missing from the line of jugs on his shelf," director Rian Johnson explained in commentary for the film (via ScreenRant). "And that is because he throws one of those jugs through the window in the end sequence to burn down the medical examiner's office." It's a nice touch, and one that only eagle-eyed fans will probably notice their first time through.

Dogs are a good judge of character

The first big clue that something's not quite right with Ransom in "Knives Out" is that the dogs don't seem to vibe with him. This is first apparent when he arrives at the house for the reading of the will. The two huge German Shepherds all but attack him upon arrival, and he's not exactly pleased to see them either. At this point, it's already been established that Meg heard the dogs barking on the night of Harlan's death. Given their onscreen reaction to him, one could deduce that it might have been Ransom sneaking around in the wee-hours of the morning.

Everyone gets greeted happily and receives snuggles from the dogs except for Ransom. Clearly, there's some history there, or they can just sense that he's got some darkness in him. Ransom's aggressive reaction to the dogs is a bit ironic, though, as in real life, Chris Evans is quite the fan of dogs.

A stage prop or a real knife?

Harlan Thrombey loves his family, but he also isn't blind to their flaws and faults. Actually, he seems to blame himself for letting them get away with so much for so long. The family member he seems to be the most disappointed in is Ransom, though his feelings toward his grandson are complicated. "There's so much of me in that kid," he says to Marta at one point. "Playing life like a game without consequence, until you can't tell the difference between a stage prop and a real knife." Viewers who keep that eloquent line in mind might not be so worried when Ransom attacks Marta during the climax of the film.

Once it's clear that he's going to prison for his crimes, Ransom decides to take revenge on Marta and lunges at her with a knife pulled from his grandfather's bizarre throne. He lands what looks to be a killing blow, but the weapon he grabs turns out to be a prop knife, and Marta survives. It's a frightening moment your first time through the film, but again, if you remember Harlan's early words about Ransom, you'll likely see the twist coming.

Fanboy Trooper Wagner has no response to Marta getting stabbed

It's made abundantly clear when we first meet Trooper Wagner (Noah Segan), that he's a big fan of Harlan Thrombey's murder mystery novels, and he emphasizes this piece of information throughout the film. Every so often he'll draw a comparison between the real-life murder mystery and a plot point from one of Harlan's books. But could his familiarity with murder mysteries also be the reason he doesn't react when Ransom attacks Marta at the end of the film? 

The second Ransom grabs a knife from his grandfather's chair, Blanc, Marta, and Detective Elliott all react in horror and shock, but not Trooper Wagner. He stands there cool as can be with no real expression on his face at all. The explanation for this could be that Wagner is so familiar with Harlan and his stories that he knows the knife is fake and just wants to watch the action play out. Or maybe he's just terrible at his job, which is another distinct possibility.