KNIVES OUT: Opening and Closing Image
KNIVES OUT uses the old screenwriting device of the opening and closing image, something that screenwriting guru Blake Snyder was a big proponent of. It’s such a familiar device that, in the wrong hands, it risks being clichéd. In KNIVES OUT, in Rian Johnson’s screenplay, this often-used screenwriting device is incredibly effective.
As this post details the ending of KNIVES OUT, don’t keep reading if you haven’t seen it. This is your SPOILER ALERT.
Why is the opening/closing image so powerful in KNIVES OUT? The script opens with an image of a coffee cup that reads, “My house, my rules, my coffee.” At first, it seems like a cute little detail, a joke, something that is too slight to have any grander meaning.
That’s an essential part of why Johnson’s use of the opening/closing image is so clever. No one sitting in the audience is going to assume that coffee cup logo is going to be vitally important to telling the story. At best, it seems like a bit of background color, a throwaway gag.
The entire story unfolds, and it’s a murder mystery, about the death of a rich novelist. Along the way, though, the role of Ana De Armas, who plays the rich dead man’s nurse, grows more and more important.
Marta, the nurse, watches as the adult children of the rich man squabble over his inheritance, which they’ve done nothing to deserve, while she has loyally cared for this rich man for years, expecting nothing grander for doing so than it being a job.
When Marta is unexpectedly given everything at the reading of the rich man’s will, his adult children pressure her to give it to them, threatening her, insisting it’s not right for her to receive all this, and so on.
Throughout the film, Marta is shaky, nervous, and scared, until gradually she starts to assert herself, and realize she might actually deserve this money, especially since the rich man’s adult children are basically all portrayed as narcissistic jerks.
Finally, at the end of the film, having accepted the position of power she’s been granted, Marta stands on the balcony, watching one of the adult children (Ransom) being arrested, she takes a sip of the coffee cup.
“My house, my rules, my coffee.” It is truly now Marta’s house, and that seemingly innocuous cup is the symbol of her character arc coming to completion.
What did you think of this opening/closing image in KNIVES OUT? Do you use the opening/closing image device in your own writing? Let us know in the comments below.