Oyez Review
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Oyez Review

Murder Mystery: Knives Out Edition by Ben Lewellyn-Taylor

In 2019’s Knives Out, Rian Johnson’s entry to the murder mystery genre quickly reveals itself as a deeper exploration of ultimate crimes in America. The Thrombeys, a “self-made,” all-American family, find their way of life threatened by the death of their patriarch, the best-selling mystery author Harlan Thrombey. Each of the Thrombeys — alongside surrounding characters — reveals their relationship to whiteness through their interactions with Marta, the daughter of an immigrant mother and nurse to Harlan.

Like the classic murder mystery game Clue, each character has an object they might wield as a weapon. Here though, each weapon represents some aspect of white supremacy as demonstrated by the character. Taken together, they form a chalk-white outline of the Thrombeys and the culture they represent.

Greatnana Wanetta. Matriarch of family. Mostly quiet. Observes everything, but arguably does not know who Marta is. Weapon: glasses (assumed lens of perception; surveillance).
Harlan Thrombey. Son of Greatnana. “Self-made” man. Started with a typewriter and died a bestselling author. Known for saying the term “red dime,” with racist origins against Indigenous Americans. Weapon: typewriter (myth of humble beginnings).
Linda Drysdale. Daughter of Harlan. Supposedly wanted Marta at Harlan’s funeral; outvoted. Thinks Marta is from Ecuador. Weapon: cigarette (inhaling what Beverly Tatum calls “smog” of racism and slowly killing oneself in the process).
Richard Drysdale. Married into family via Linda. Asks how Marta is holding up while looking at his phone. Considers her “like part of the family,” though he is not related by blood. Thinks Marta is from Paraguay, or Uruguay. Quotes Hamilton, but argues that immigrants should enter the country legally, or else. Believes that son might grow up if cut off from family wealth. Weapon: wedding ring (unearned privilege; class mobility through marriage).
Ransom Drysdale. Son of Linda and Richard; grandson of Harlan. Distances himself from family. Considered the “black sheep.” Asks Meg about her “SJW degree.” Offers Marta his help; thinks she is from Brazil. Weapon: ransom note (anonymity; perceived distance; a faceless threat, but a threat nonetheless).
Walt Thrombey. Son of Harlan. Handles publishing side of Harlan’s novels. Amount of agency over publishing doubted by sister, Linda. Still, calls Harlan’s work “our books.” Supposedly wanted Marta at Harlan’s funeral; outvoted. Wants her to know family will take care of her financially. Inherits Harlan’s racist term “red dime.” Weapon: cane (family wealth as a crutch).
Donna Thrombey. Married into family via Walt. Believes Americans are losing “our way of life and our culture.” Worries over amount of Mexicans in the country; claims she would feel the same if it were Europeans. Never speaks again in film. Other characteristics indeterminate. Weapon: Fox News coffee mug (conservative talking points).
Jacob Thrombey. Son of Walt and Donna; grandson of Harlan. Always on cellphone. Referred to by family as an “alt-right troll.” Considered non-threatening by family. Weapon: cellphone (radicalized via unregulated social media).
Joni Thrombey. Married into family: husband died, but she remained a Thrombey. Owns Flam, a skincare brand that promotes “self-sufficiency with an acknowledgment of human need.” Receives monthly allowance from Harlan, and then some. Weapon: tube of skin cream (entrepreneurial “independence” as American ideal; conflation of skin with the soul).
Meg Thrombey. Daughter of Joni; granddaughter of Harlan. College student. Defends Marta; offended on her behalf when police refer to her as “the help.” Confronts family members for slights against Marta. Referred to by family as a Marxist, feminist, and liberal snowflake. Schooling funded by Harlan. Weapon: Harlan’s checkbook (maintaining ties with publicly protested institutions).
Benoit Blanc. Private detective. Identifies as a “self-made man,” a “respectful, quiet, passive observer of the truth.” Believes almost everyone is capable of lying. Describes his process as observing facts until the truth falls at his feet. Last name translates to “white.” Weapon: magnifying glass (supposed transparency, objectivity; tabula rasa).
Trooper Wagner. Detective on case of Harlan’s death. Loves Hamilton, Harlan’s novels, and Hallmark Channel originals. Eager, generally seems to trust Thrombey family; possibly wants to befriend them when this all blows over. Weapon: Hamilton playbill (obsession with hip-hop culture as indicator of personal liberalism).

Ben Lewellyn-Taylor lives in Dallas, TX. He is an MFA student in Antioch University’s low-residency program. His essays and reviews appear in various publications, all of which can be found on bentaylorblogs.com.

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