With Knives Out, Rian Johnson Nailed A Key Detail For Making A Murder Mystery Series

This post contains spoilers for the plot of "Knives Out."

Rian Johnson's 2019 murder mystery film "Knives Out," at first glance, is all about a charismatic detective named Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) who has been invited under mysterious circumstances to investigate the murder of a wealthy novelist. With his thick southern drawl, he talks to the old novelist's family and housekeeper, and gradually pieces together that the killer was not Marta (Ana de Armas) as the evidence initially points to, but the guy's grandson Ransom (Chris Evans).

But as anyone who's seen the movie can attest, Blanc isn't really the protagonist of "Knives Out." Instead, the character who gets the most focus is Marta, who is revealed early on to be hiding things from Blanc and is trying to navigate an absurdly difficult situation. Not only does she carry the guilt of having accidentally killed her boss (well, kind of), but she also has the whole Thrombey family coming after her when her boss makes her his only heir. Blanc might be the one who puts all the pieces together at the end, but it's Marta's quick thinking — lying to Ransom in order to trick a confession out of him — that saves the day. 

"It's a mistake of the genre to think that your detective is your main character," Rian Johnson said to Entertainment Weekly about his "Knives Out" series, the second movie of which will be in theaters on November 23. "Benoit Blanc is the constant North Star of all of these movies. But you have to think of him as the detective, not as the central character."

Detectives don't usually make good protagonists

This is hardly a new rule, of course. Most successful detective stories don't center around the detective character's point of view. Most famously, the Sherlock Holmes stories were written from John Watson's point of view, which helped to force Holmes to explain his deductions so they made sense to the average reader. Most adaptations of "Sherlock Holmes," the good ones at least, also make sure to center Watson as the main character. The format gives viewers someone relatable to latch onto, and allows the detective character to maintain a consistent level of mystique. 

Perhaps most importantly, the detective character usually doesn't change much. It doesn't matter how many movies are made in this "Knives Out" series; Detective Blanc is probably going to be the same guy each time, playing the same basic role. The protagonist, meanwhile, is someone who needs to change and grow throughout the story. There needs to be higher stakes for them besides the simple question of whether or not they'll be able to solve the puzzle or not.

"The story has to function in terms of the suspects, the murder, and the victim," Johnson explained. "Benoit is weaving his way through that, but the dramatic stakes are never his." Although Benoit will likely be the only character to consistently be in every movie in this series, he will likely never be the main focus of any of them. We don't know who the main character of "Glass Onion" is yet, but let's hope they've got an arc as thrilling and surprising as Marta's. You can read /Film's review of the sequel film here