How Did 'Knives Out' Pull Off That Plot Twist?

Rian Johnson knows how to twist a plot!

Look, I know just the name Rian Johnson causes a huge stir around here. I get it. I truly believe everyone is entitled to their opinion. The reasons I love this site and our readers are that they are passionate about creation and not afraid to speak their minds. 

Today, I want to teach a lesson about plot twists using the Rian Johnson movie Knives Out

Even though the video example uses some stuff from The Last Jedi, I'm going to leave that out. 

We're going to focus on the positive. 

I love the subversions used in Knives Out that play on the genre and make complex choices that continue to keep the audience engaged at every turn. 

Check out this video from The Closer Look and let's talk more after the jump! 

And obviously, major spoilers ahead!

How Did 'Knives Out' Pull Off That Plot Twist?

Man, I really enjoyed that video. I think it had so many positive things to say about the way a writer engages with the audience. I wanted to go back over the 3 rules of plot twists and examine them a little further. 

So, let's dive right in. 

1. Plot twists must enhance the narrative 

The golden rule for all plot twists is that they need to mean something in the greater story. For Knives Out, the twist is that we know whodunnit, so the rest of the movie has to service seeing her cover it up. 

We've spent so long watching and reading these kinds of mysteries that the tropes are obvious to us. 

So, how does Rian Johnson enhance our experience? 

Well, he pulls back the curtain as we watch and root for our protagonist to be the one covering up the clues the traditional detective is looking for in order to indict her. 

Secondary to that, we have the idea that someone else knows and is tracking her as well. 

All of these things lean into the mystery, we want to try to figure out who knows what. 

That's at the core of the story but enhanced by switching the perspective of the person inside this tale. 

2. Truth (or verisimilitude)

What's true at the center of the story? The best plot twists lean into what we believe is true within the characters, stakes, and plot. 

Perhaps the most important thing about a great twist is the idea of truth at its center. You want these twists to make logical sense and have meaning at the center of the story. That means it would be really hard to sell aliens coming down in the middle of Knives Out because it wouldn't feel set up or earned. 

Sure, all twists need to be shocking, but they have to be true to the story you're trying to tell. 

If you're having trouble understanding that, think about foreshadowing. We need to foreshadow where the twist is going and we need to leave clues for people to make the twist make sense. 

Place clues along the way for the audience. 

The best clues don't feel like clues, just plot details that later all make sense at the end. 

3. A great plot twist keeps the movie's promise 

If you've read the Save The Cat beat sheet then you know about the promise of the premise. It's the reason an audience is in the theater or at home watching your program. 

So when you deliver them a twist, make sure it's both the one they're expecting...and unexpected. 

Yeah...that's super hard. 

People come into a mystery wanting to solve it. What Rian Johnson did so well was that he solved it upfront. We know who killed Thromby...but the twist that follows makes complete sense and pays off the audience's desire for an actual twist.  

The story weaves everything into a compelling narrative and allows itself to still surprise us as Benoit Blanc searches for clues to the murder AS WELL AS clues to what really happened that night. 

As an audience, we also want to know the details of what was said and what happened, but we also are looking for Marta to cover her clues. So as Marta covers her clues, we see other clues planted that reveal Ransom later. 

It truly is a genius maneuver! 

What's next? Learn more about plot twists

While chances are that you turn on the television or go to the movies to be entertained, there’s nothing more entertaining than the plot twist. They keep the audience on their toes. They make us pay attention to every detail, elicit deep emotions, and are what's talked about most when the credits roll. Keep reading!      

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1 Comment

Knives Out is very entertaining, and the genre swapping really boosts the film in a big way.

March 28, 2020 at 9:28AM

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David Patterson
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