Why you should watch Knives Out this Thanksgiving


IMDb, Fair Use.

“Knives Out” features a star-studded cast.

As most of us prepare to spend Thanksgiving with our families, where we will fight with extended relatives about dumb political stuff and Thursday football, “Knives Out” stands out as a relevant and timely holiday movie. Directed by Rian Johnson of “Star Wars” fame, “Knives Out” uses a self-referential whodunnit plot to discuss family drama. In particular, much like the Thanksgiving table in my own family, the Thrombey family wrestles through larger political questions that create intra-family conflict. 

Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas), the nurse of victim Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), is the film’s protagonist, breaking the expectations set by the trailers, where she only appears a handful of times and gets no dialogue. With a star-studded cast,  including the likes of Daniel Craig, Toni Collette, Chris Evans and Jamie Lee Curtis, one would expect an ensemble performance or a larger name like Craig to play the protagonist — but instead, we spend our time with a Cuban actress of lesser American fame. Chris Evans’s character doesn’t show his face until about halfway through the movie, Christopher Plummer’s role only consists of a few flashbacks, and the remaining family members are as one-dimensional as can be. 

On the other hand, Marta is the only character the filmmakers even attempt to draw emotion for. Even the opening scene, where it’s revealed that Marta just tragically lost a friend, is meant to win us over to Marta’s team. This subversion of viewer expectations — going from not even considering her to be the main character to following her emotional journey — forces us to check our own biases. 

Marta, who comes from Latin America, is largely disrespected by the family. At face value the Thrombeys treat her respectfully, but they disregard her personhood throughout the movie by constantly citing different Latin American countries as her place of origin: Brazil, Paraguay, Ecuador, Uruguay and others. At each mention of a new country, the audience I saw the film with joined into a chorus of laughter. Their laughter increased my discomfort, similar to the same way that audiences cracked up at the fried chicken joke in “Green Book.” While yes, there is humor in these jokes — laughing at them brings attention to the way Marta is treated — they potentially reinforce the idea that she is disposable. 

The filmmakers, however, know what the characters don’t; Marta, and her undocumented mother, have worth. As a result, the movie’s conclusion ends with viewers being won over by Marta and looking with disdain at the familiar star faces of the Thrombey family, making this a timely social commentary. 

Nearly every week President Trump makes news headlines with anti-immigrant rhetoric or policies. Earlier this year reports about border patrol putting immigrants in cages dominated the news cycle, something that Joni (Toni Collette) explicitly mentions in the movie. While immigration politics can be a hot button topic at most family holidays, “Knives Out” presents a narrative where European-Americans feel emotion for a Latin American immigrant with an undocumented mother. Rather than avoiding political discussions this Thanksgiving, maybe opt to watch “Knives Out” as a family with the hope that all who watch can feel for someone like Marta.