In this section of our Colossus Movie Guide for Knives Out, we look at important motifs that help us understand the film.
- Benoit Blanc – Daniel Craig
- Detective Lieutenant Elliot – LaKeith Stanfield
- Marta Cabrera – Ana de Armas
- Harlan Thrombey – Christopher Plummer
- Linda Drysdale – Jamie Lee Curtis
- Richard Drysdale – Don Johnson
- Hugh Ransom Drysdale – Chris Evans
- Walt Thrombey – Michael Shannon
- Donna Thrombey – Riki Lindhome
- Jacob Thrombey – Jaeden Martell
- Joni Thrombey – Toni Collette
- Meg Thrombey – Katherine Langford
- Trooper Wagner – Noah Segan
- Fran – Edi Patterson
- Alan Stevens – Frank Oz
- Written by – Rian Johnson
- Directed by – Rian Johnson
Important motifs in Knives Out
The chair of knives
Situated in the sitting room of Harlan’s mansion is a throne-like chair crowned with an array of knives that all aim the tip of their blade at a center point just behind an occupier’s head. This creates the illusion of danger. The sense that the knives froze at the moment right before they could complete their plunge. It’s a maximalist take on the Sword of Damocles.
The Sword of Damocles is a parable about power. In the story, there’s a king named Dionysus. Damocles is one of the king’s subordinates. And one day, Damocles fawns over how lucky Dionysus is. “You’re the king! You’re the boss! How lucky you are! All this wealth. All this power. What a life!” Dionysus says, “You think it’s so great? How about we switch places for a day?” Of course, Damocles jumped at the opportunity, envisioning maidens feeding him grapes, sleeping in a great bed, and even going for a ride on the royal stallion through the king’s forest. That next day, Damocles walks into the throne room and Dionysus gestures to the throne. The King-For-A-Day happily takes his seat. Then he notices the odd vibe in the room. He catches the eyes of a servant who glances above Damocles. There, above Damocles, is a sword, hanging by a hair from the tail of the royal stallion. At any moment, the hair could break. The sword could fall. Damocles leaps from the throne. But Dionysus tsk-tsks. “Sit down. Be the king. Bask in how wonderful it is.”
When you have power, when you have wealth, it’s not all wonderful. There is fear. You become a target. We hear this all the time with athletes. As soon as they sign that first big contract, they become a target. Sometimes the intent is obvious and harmless. Like someone wanting to pitch you on their business idea. Sometimes it’s obvious and dangerous, like a robbery. Then the inverse can be true. The intent can be concealed and harmless. Like a friend who agrees with everything and laughs at everything just because they want to be taken care of more than they want to be real. Or the intent can be concealed and dangerous, like someone who says and does all the right things but is stealing or corrupting in a way that benefits them.
It’s the same for Harlan. His success has made him a target, even within his own family. For years, they were harmless yet forceful in the way they took advantage of him. But as soon as he cut Ransom out of the will, the knives came out. The intent turned dangerous. And when Harlan’s wealth transfers to Marta, we see the way each of the Thrombeys turn their metaphorical knife on the poor girl, wanting to take from her what they believe belongs to them.
So the chair of knives, which also seems to be a reference to the Iron Throne from Game of Thrones, is a physical representation of this abstract, complex dynamic.
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