INTERVIEW: Rian Johnson and Edward Norton Explain Why the ‘Knives Out’ Series Works
Nothing makes me quite as happy as a Rian Johnson project. Whether it is my all-time favorite music video for LCD Soundsystem’s song “oh baby” or The Last Jedi, I have a fantastic time with each new thing he puts out. But, if we’re being honest, the thing I love the most is his Knives Out series. As someone who grew up reading about Sherlock Holmes and finding things like Agatha Christie’s stories fascinating, both Knives Out and Glass Onion (which I gave 5/5 stars to) are my favorites.
So it gave me such joy to get a question answered at the global press conference for Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, hosted by Josh Horowitz, who read the question out: “This is from Mary Sue in the United States of America. For Rian. ‘You have mastered the modern art of telling a murder mystery. What has been your favorite thing of bringing a new audience into this type of story?’ I mean, you’ve really helped bring back this genre that you love so much. I mean, that’s got to be a source of pride.”
And I meant it. As someone who, like Johnson, loves the genre, I owe the Knives Out franchise a lot for bringing me more of it. And Johnson, to his credit, talked a lot about how he enjoyed being that source of fun and excitement for a new generation and giving them their own murder mystery series to love.
“I mean, I feel like we’ve kind of rode a beautiful wave of, like, people rediscovering these, which has been really nice with a lot of other great filmmakers bringing them to life. As a whodunit junkie myself, it makes me really happy,” Johnson said. “And then what makes me the happiest, I guess, is, you know, I mentioned Agatha Christie’s books, but those movies that were based on her books in the late ’70s and
early ’80s, when I was a kid watching those with my family, just remembering how big of an impact they had. And now the coolest thing for me is talking to friends who have kids around that age, and seeing them get into these movies, and recognizing, oh, that’s kind of what we made these for. And it’s super, super-cool that they can inspire whoever’s gonna, 30 years from now, do their own version of it. That makes me really happy.”
Edward Norton gets it
While my question was for Johnson, Norton wanted to add on to what Rian Johnson was saying and continued to talk about why the Knives Out movies work. And he’s right. One of the things about the new Hercule Poirot movies that doesn’t really work for me is that the mystery is gone. If you know the story, you know the ending. But with Knives Out, everything is new and exciting.
“But can I say, I think a lot of, with, you know, all love for every version of it, I think a lot of what we’ve seen is reheated beans in a way,” Norton said. “And I think the reason that Knives Out was so much fun is that Rian has done, as he pointed out, what Agatha Christie was doing which is actually weaving it into the zeitgeist of the moment, you know? He’s found a way to have all the fun of the convention and the mechanisms and the traditions. But laced through with jokes about how no one can remember what country Marta’s from, and an alt-right cousin. And, you know, and I think anything, you can see
the times you’re living in, and characters who represent the foibles of our moment, gives it that extra thing. And I think in this, maybe even more abundantly so, but I think to take something and make sure that it’s for the audience that it’s of the moment that they’re living in, I think that’s not trying to revitalize the old trope and the old costumes and the thing. Because then it’s kind of like someone observed
once, that if something’s opaque, you watch it in a different way. If something’s transparent—”
Horowitz jumped in, responding to Norton’s comment: “The museum piece as opposed to an alive thing.”
Norton went on to talk more about why Knives Out and Glass Onion work. “If you can see through a thing and see yourself and your moment in it, you enjoy it more, I think. Or relate to it more. And I think Rian has pulled that off very uniquely within this kind of rekindled affection for the form,” Norton ended with, and it’s so true.
Johnson has managed to bring back a love for this genre that I thought was lost to the sands of time, and getting to have that excitement every time a new Benoit Blanc mystery drops feels like a gift, so thank you, Rian.
(featured image: Eric Charbonneau/Netflix © 2022)
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