Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I saw the film Knives Out. The whodunit mystery has very popular ratings by both critics and audiences and is a true holiday surprise. Featuring some well known A-list actors, as well as many popular icons such as Miami Vice’s Don Johnson, the film appears to have pleased audiences looking for something other than reboot old comic book and 80’s TV series and movies.
The movie was entertaining; I had figured out most of the ending about 2/3 of the way through viewing. The film remains a solid addition to the mystery genre and an enjoyable holiday romp. As usual, I noticed some common memes which I will discuss in the remainder of the article.
The basic premise of the movie is that an old money family fights for the resources of the white patriarch nearing the end of his life. The patriarch dies and leaves his fortune to his minority medical assistant with whom he had developed a father-daughter type of relationship. All while he has become more estranged over time from this family whose life outlook has been jaded from years of avoiding personal responsibility while spending their father’s wealth.
The twist in the movie doesn’t involve only the plot in which the real killer is revealed along with their motives, but in the message the movie sends during the climatic last scene. The end of the movie has the assistant, whose mother is living in the country illegally, standing on the balcony as sole owner of the patriarch’s estate and glowering down towards the family that have been kicked out with nothing to show for their efforts to maintain their generational wealth.
Granted, the family tried to manipulate their way back into the good graces of the father and then with his assistant once it was clear she was to inherit everything. But the thinly veiled underlying message is one of a brash, unscrupulous, entitled white family having their inheritance given away to a minority whose struggles to cope with her new American life endeared her to the wealthy patriarch in the film.
Are the writers and director suggesting that this family represents Americans in their attempts to limit free wealth transfers to immigrants and the mass migration from Latin American countries? Is the implicit moral of the story that acquired wealth should periodically be redistributed to the minority in an attempt to rebalance resources, land wealth, and their associated rights, power, and privileges?
My thoughts were the films attempt to address modern debate on immigration and wealth distribution are well intended, but fall flat on merit. Don Johnson echoes a typical conservative American position that immigrants need to follow due process in becoming naturalized citizens, a stance in which the other characters never explicitly criticize but quite overtly shun in their reactions to his statements.
The film caricature of the family as unappreciative, lazy, and at time immoral appears to paint modern Americans with a broad brush in order to facilitate sympathetic audience responses to the girl in position to win everything against all odds. If we can agree that she is somehow, through all of her life struggles, entitled to the good life lived by previous generations of Americans, then it is not such a tall leap to acceptance of traditional socialist wealth redistribution dogma and policies.
What the film did not adequately explore is the average middle class American’s position on the topic and what their reactions would be to such a sudden redistribution of their assets. After all, it is the middle class that often pays the most for socialist policies in terms of taxation, loss of income, an failure to build any wealth or financial independence.
We have written extensively over the last ten years on the fact that today’s Keynesian economic policies have whittled down the middle class to an endangered species while spuriously spending their wealth on boondoggles that often don’t benefit their intended recipients by moving them permanently out of poverty. Instead, these policies most often lock them into generational patterns of poverty.
A good social commentary this film was not, though the overt plot elements related to solving the mystery were quite enjoyable.