Classic whodunits have been a mainstay of our crime-loving hearts for decades (nay, a century!), and joining the ranks of some of our faves (Murder on the Orient Express, Clue, Memento, Vertigo, and more), comes Rian Johnson’s Knives Out. With a throwback mystery aesthetic and a jam-packed cast of favorites, this murder mystery is a definite thinker. So what happend in the plot of Knives Out and how do all of the clues fit together? Here’s a look at all of the twists and plot in our Knives Out ending explained…
Spoilers ahoy for Knives Out. Flee to safety if you haven’t seen the film yet.
Knives Out ending explained
The wealthy family patriarch and famous author, Harlan Thrombey, is turning 85 and having a party with his family. He turns up dead that via an apparent suicide after arguing with seemingly all of his children and his oldest grandchild. As the plot thickens, it seems like almost everyone has a motive for killing him — all except his loyal and caring nurse, Marta. Marta was the last seen with Harlan but has no known reason to want him dead.
An unknown character has hired famed private investigator Detective Benoit Blanc to see if foul play was involved. As it unfolds, we see that nothing is as it seems…
Who’s who in Knives Out?
- Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer): wealthy, shrewd, and playful patriarch of the family.
- Linda Drysdale-Thrombey (Jamie Lee Curtis): Harlan’s eldest daughter, business owner, and wife of Richard (Don Johnson).
- Hugh Ransom Drysdale-Thrombey (Chris Evans): Linda and Richard’s spoiled son. Known to the family as Ransom, but “the help” is required to call him Hugh.
- Walt Thrombey (Michael Shannon): Harlan’s younger son, husband of Donna (Riki Lindhome), runs his father’s publishing house.
- Joni Thrombey (Toni Collette): lifestyle guru, Harlan’s daughter-in-law and wife of his deceased son.
- Meg Thrombey (Katherine Langford): Joni’s daughter and college student.
- Jacob Thrombey (Jaeden Martell): Walt and Donna’s right-wing troll son.
- Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas): Harlan’s nurse, caretaker, and friend.
- Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig): a private detective who is mysteriously hired by an unknown person to investigate Harlan’s murder.
- Detective Lieutenant Elliot (Lakeith Stanfield): a detective involved in the murder investigation who initially rules the death an apparent suicide.
- Trooper Wagner (Noah Segan): a police officer investigating the death of Harlan.
- Fran (Edi Patterson): Harlan’s housekeeper.
- Wanetta Thrombey (K Callan): Harlan’s mother of indeterminate age.
What’s the plot of Knives Out?
Initially, we were lead to believe that, due to an accidental swap of medications, caretaker Marta was the cause of Harlan’s death. She had swapped his usual medication for a lethal dose of morphine causing Harlan to fake his suicide to protect his dear friend. She was able to fake her exit, return to the scene, disguise herself as Harlan to be seen alive after his death, and head home to avoid detection.
Prior to the death of Harlan, each of these characters had an argument with him: Walt over his impending firing from running the publishing company, Ransom over being cut out of the will entirely, Richard over his affair with another woman, and Joni over her embezzlement of his money. Each of these characters had a viable reason to want him dead before he could adjust his will or allowances to change their income or lifestyle.
Detective Benoit Blanc is hired by an unknown person to investigate the alleged crime. He enlists the help of Marta as his “Holmes” to help find clues around the house. Marta is able to cover up almost all of the clues that would lead to her on their tour of the grounds. Almost all.
At the reading of the will the following day, it comes to light that Harlan has decided to bequeath all of his money and belongings to his caretaker, Marta. The family is incensed and goes to great lengths to harass her and attempt to get her to renounce her inheritance. Even her friend Meg is compelled to ask her to give up the money. Once the family realizes that the Slayer Rule could prevent Marta from inheriting if she was found to have been liable for his death, they demand to continue the investigation with Detective Blanc.
Marta escapes the mansion with help from Harlan’s playboy grandson, Ransom. He is able to coax the full truth out of her due to her inability to lie without vomiting. He decides he’ll help her evade a murder trial if she gives him his part of the inheritance. She agrees.
Marta is inundated with paperwork about the will and from lawyers including a blank envelope. This envelope turns out to be a blackmail note from someone who claims to know she was involved in the crime based on bloodwork from the medical examiner’s report. She panics and gets Ransom to help her locate the place to meet the blackmailer. They see the office of the medical examiner in flames as someone has burned it and all of its evidence. Detective Blanc sees them, gives chase, and upon pulling them over after the very silly car chase, arrests Ransom based on a false identification by his great grandmother, Wanetta. She had mistaken Marta for Ransom as Marta was escaping the grounds.
Marta is able to get herself to the blackmailer before heading to the police station and it is revealed that Fran, the housekeeper was the one who had the evidence. She had been drugged and left for dead, though Marta was able to revive her and get her to the hospital. Detective Blanc is able to get the full story from Marta about how she was responsible for the murder and accompanies her to confess to the family and renounce the money.
But due to his expert deduction, he stops her at the last minute and reveals that she was indeed NOT the murderer and would be keeping her inheritance after all.
Who was the killer in Knives Out?
We soon find out that, after being told that Marta would be sole beneficiary in the will, Ransom storms out and hatches a plan. He decides to frame Marta by swapping the contents of the medication vials and then swapping them back while the family was at the funeral. If it had gone to plan, Marta would have poisoned Harlan with a vial that looked like his usual medication. Due to her expert nursing skills, she instinctively gave him the correct medication from the mislabeled bottle. Had they called the ambulance as Marta wanted, Harlan would have been just fine.
Ransom assumed all had gone to plan until the next day when he saw that his grandfather had died, not by poisoning, but by slitting his throat. Housekeeper Fran had seen him meddling with the medications and decided to use a contact at the medical examiner’s office to acquire what she thought was damning evidence against him. She sent him the blackmail envelope which he then sent to Marta instead, removing any information about where to meet Fran.
He emailed Marta from an anonymous account and lead her to Fran’s meeting place where she thought she heard Fran say, “You did this.” But Ransom had already met with Fran and attempted to kill her. What Fran actually said was, “Hugh did this,” since the staff was made to call him Hugh instead of Ransom.
Fran gets taken to the hospital while Marta, Blanc, and the family congregate at the house. Detective Blanc reveals that the medical examiner’s report proved Marta’s innocence by confirming that he wasn’t poisoned. Great grandmother Wanetta’s phrasing of seeing Ransom “again” that evening confirmed that Ransom had returned to the scene to swap the medications. He also knew that Ransom and Harlan’s will conversation had turned to Marta because he mentioned Marta beating him more often at the game of Go. How else would she have come up if he wasn’t informing Ransom of his intentions?
Marta receives a phone call from the hospital which she indicates was good news about Fran who is now ready to tell the police everything about Ransom. This forces Ransom to confess everything including that he burned down the medical examiner’s office to hide the evidence of Marta’s innocence. Once he’s done, Marta vomits, revealing that she was lying about Fran living through her ordeal and Ransom realizes he was duped into confessing. And it’s all been recorded by the police.
Ransom attempts to get his last revenge on Marta by taking a prop dagger from the room and attacking Marta with it… but it was merely a harmless prop. He’s taken away while his family looks on.
We also find out that it was Ransom who hired Detective Blanc to investigate the murder. This was essential in making sure Marta was found out.
At the very end of the story, Detective Blanc lets Marta know that he always knew she was involved by the tiny blood spatter on her white shoes. Marta is last seen sipping coffee on her new balcony while the family looks on from below.
What inspired Knives Out?
Writer & director Rian Johnson listed a few classic mysteries as his influences in writing the film. These include Murder on the Orient Express, Clue, Something’s Afoot, The Private Eyes, Murder by Death, Death on the Nile, The Mirror Crack’d, Deathtrap, and Gosford Park. The character of internet troll Jacob Thrombey was inspired by angry Star Wars fans after the release of The Last Jedi.
Did I miss any twists or important plot points in this Knives Out ending explained? Let me know in the comments!
Check out Tim’s review of Knives Out!