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‘Knives Out’ slices up immigration narratives

Watching “Knives Out” is a little bit like eating sushi. At first, it’s just awful. It’s a cacophonous, confusing crap-salad of different textures, tones, styles and jokes that don’t quite land properly or make any sense. Is it supposed to be sweet? Is it supposed to be savory? Is it supposed to be a parody? A dark comedy? A political satire? 

However, as everything gets broken down and blended together, it slowly forms into something that, if not necessarily breathtaking, leaves you satisfied and smiling.

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The film is a surprisingly unique and profound subversion of the classic Christie-esque British manor murder mystery, a trope that has been so thoroughly dissected, skewered and re-imagined by cinematic vultures over the years that it’s a surprise that there’s anything left to make out of its remains.

A stupidly rich family decides to throw a stupidly expensive party at their stupidly big house only for their beloved patriarch, with whom everyone just happens to have some stupidly petty beef with, to be murdered at the end of the night.

Except, this time around, the stupidly rich family isn’t a clan of hoity-toity old money Brits, but rather proud self-made Americans whose fortunes come not from daddy’s money, but their own grit and hard work.

Or so they say.

After the old man’s will is read and it is revealed that daddy’s money has been left not to them, but his faithful, honest and well-loved immigrant nurse — who, unbeknownst to them, and by no fault of her own, is also the one responsible for the old man’s demise — is when the knives come out and when the family and the story start to show their true colors.

All of a sudden, the loving and welcoming affection these people once showed to their beloved employee turns to vitriolic scorn, abuse and manipulation as they try to weasel and blackmail the terrified young woman into forking over the money they consider to be rightfully theirs.

Sure, they could tolerate her and her foreignness when things were going well and their forefather’s inheritance seemed to be theirs for the taking, but what happens when their virtuous rallying cries become reality?

It’s not a movie about immigration made purely for the sake of reminding us that Hollywood cares about immigrants and the dispossessed. … instead, the film is an artistic expression of a simple fact; the country’s ethnic makeup is changing, and it will continue to change, and it has been changing since its birth.”

It’s here that the film shifts from a sloppy American rehashing of “Clue” to a more poignant and profound social commentary. Suddenly, political comments made in the first half of the film that seemed like nothing more than shallow moralizing and virtue signaling take on a more significant weight.

This family isn’t just a bunch of bourgeois bubble-heads; they’re an allegorical representation of the American public — each member an embodiment of the competing factions that have arisen in response to the immigration debate now that the culture at large has embraced and accepted the changing ethnic makeup of our populace.

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There’s Toni Collette’s welcoming but shallow peacemaker, Don Johnson’s tolerant but stubbornly right-wing conservative, Jaeden Lieberher’s teenage alt-right troll, Katherine Langford’s angry but driven college activist, Jamie Lee Curtis’ strong, independent, middle-aged feminist, Chris Evans’ sneering apolitical nihilist and finally Daniel Craig’s calm, gentlemanly, KFC-accented detective Blanc.

It’s a clever and refreshing concept, even if the actual execution is a bit clunky, and it manages to stay above the kind of shallow moralizing being shipped out of Tinseltown these days. It’s not a movie about immigration made purely for the sake of reminding us that Hollywood cares about immigrants and the dispossessed, and maybe if the rest of us were as loving and virtuous as they were, we wouldn’t have all these problems.

Instead, the film is an artistic expression of a simple fact; the country’s ethnic makeup has been changing, it is changing, it will continue to change and we aren’t heroes just because we’re okay with that, nor are we villains because we are trepidatious about what it means for the future. However, we’re fools if we aren’t able to recognize it and still think it’s a trend under our control. We can examine its pros and cons, and we can readjust our attitude toward it, but we can’t change it.

In the end, it isn’t Marta’s fault that she’s been used as a pawn in this family’s petty squabble, nor is her acquisition of their father’s riches the result of her devious scheming. Instead, it’s simply a result of her embodying the groundedness, the work ethic and the core values that the old man treasured and sought to preserve through his fortune — values that his over-privileged offspring have lost sight of.

She is honest, she is loyal and she is good. While it may seem simple and dismissive, that simple goodness will always prevail, no matter its ethnicity.

Scott Powell can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @scottysseus.

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