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Rian Johnson Talking About the Audience Being Too Smart to be Tricked Is Fascinating

Chris Evans wears an Aran fisherman's sweater in Knives Out

Sometimes, you’re sitting in a theater watching a movie and you can feel like the movie thinks it is smarter than it actually is. And that can really take you out of the movie that you’re watching. Because someone trying to outsmart an audience definitely puts a sour taste in the mouth of those watching the story unfold. But when a movie takes you on a ride and makes you question everything you thought you know without trying to trick you? That’s a great film and that is, personally, how I would describe the way Rian Johnson does his mystery films, like Knives Out.

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The whodunnit is a special art, and Rian Johnson has mastered it in a way that transports its audience and forces them into second-guessing themselves over and over again until we don’t know where the right answer is. It’s what happened with Knives Out and, from the reviews I’ve seen from the Netflix sequel, Glass Onion, it seems as if he has done it again!

And one of the most delightful responses from director and writer Rian Johnson out of the Toronto Film Festival premiere for the film is that he explained the difference between taking the “audience on a roller coaster ride” versus trying to outsmart them. Which is what a lot of whodunnits fall victim to. It’s easy to think you can trick someone but the reality is, someone in that audience already knew the ending. And Johnson doesn’t seem to try and think he can outsmart the people he’s telling stories to.

“Nobody is smarter than the audience, and I think it’s a fool’s game to try and outsmart an audience,” Johnson said at the premiere of Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, and it really highlights why I think Knives Out worked so well and why Glass Onion is getting rave reviews out of Toronto International Film Festival.

That’s what makes Johnson’s films work

One of my favorite aspects of Knives Out comes from the fact that I knew it was Ransom Drysdale (played by Chris Evans) almost instantly. But Knives Out kept me hooked because I questioned whether or not I was right. Johnson wove in a story that had me at the height of my detective skills in thinking I had it all figured out and then quickly dropped me back down into thinking I knew nothing.

I was convinced Chris Evans was a bad guy, but then, with each bit of information that Benoit Blanc got (played brilliantly by Daniel Craig), I became more convinced that I was being too confident and started to rethink everything. The movie never made me feel like I couldn’t figure it out, and it never tried to outsmart me. What it did was, as Johnson said, take me on a rollercoaster of a ride, and I truly do think that’s why his brand of whodunnit works so well.

An audience knows when you’re playing your hand, and playing into that makes for a better movie than trying to build in tricks that are meant to “outsmart” us. And that’s why I love the idea of the Knives Out movies so much.

(featured image: Lionsgate)

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Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh.

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