If Bob Dylan says that money doesn’t talk, it swears, Knives Out is a subversive black comedy that aims straight for the heart of the Trump administration and those who have either turned a blind eye or willingly and enthusiastically gone along with his inhumane border policies. Probably no one really wants to get too deep in the weeds with politics when it comes to the Oscars but just as with George W. Bush and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that led to some of darkest films to win in the Best Picture race since the 1970s (The Departed in 2006, No Country for Old Men in 2007 and the last of these, The Hurt Locker in 2009) Trump’s long shadow covers almost everything.
So sure, in our bizarre alternative realities where the right has its own news station that tells people lies they believe the left owned media also tells them, Trump is defended at all costs. The moment they figure out what Knives Out is about, and with other films this year pinning Trump and his circus of hate under glass – like Jojo Rabbit for sure, and *Bombshell, like arguably Joker (I think it’s open to interpretation), certainly Parasite (even if made for South Korea its universality hits home here).
It is kind of funny that so many are pearl clutching about Jojo Rabbit because it dares to make fun of Hitler – even though we are all making fun of Trump as practically a full time job daily. So what that might say is, oh Trump is that bad. He’s not as bad as Hitler – well, if he IS as bad as Hitler then it’s time for the democrats to get their ducks in a row and if he isn’t as bad as Hitler, then what are we all doing here? Jojo Rabbit is one of the perfect films for our time because it absolutely puts fascism and its most recent uprising into the absurd, where it belongs. And here we have people clucking about like chickens in a hen house because the movies DARES to make fun of hate-fueled bigotry that leads to genocide.
Knives Out lives on the same planet as Jojo Rabbit – it is high satire that does not make it easy on those in power, those with the money, those who are happy to utilize “the help” when it suits them but have a much harder time treating them as actual people. Knives Out, like Jojo Rabbit, works as a “fun time at the movies” but both films have something very powerful to say to us all right now: be careful what you allow to go on right under your nose.
Parasite, while being very specific about late stage capitalism and even communism in its allegiance to a state that doesn’t really care about the rights of its citizens, is also funny – like Knives Out is, like Jojo Rabbit is. It, too, delivers a hard message about those who have wealth and how they simply DON’T see, or don’t care to know, those who have become the scapegoats, or those who must serve as the underclass so that the upper class can thrive.
And Joker plays around with making something horrific almost funny and in so doing becomes disturbing. The deeper irony of Joker is that it’s about a movie that cautions you not to make heroes out of bad guys but somehow people have made Joker into a hero anyway. The film mirrors back what ended up happening. While it may or may not be an indictment of Trump, it certainly is about a culture of winners and losers and how we just don’t SEE the losers.
In America, in Knives Out and in Jojo Rabbit, it is not so much a class issue – it is an ethnicity issue. It is a “illegals” issue and a “final solution” issue. It is, without a doubt, a white superiority vs. “the other” issue.
Trump does a very good job with smoke and mirrors. He keeps us distracted by throwing out crumbs to a clickbait/controversy starved media and we who plug into that feedback loop are similarly distracted. What’s today’s clickbait trauma that we’re gonna hashtag our way through? That CNN is going to broadcast non-stop? Oh, right – impeachment. And what of the children being separated from their parents? What of having a President of the United States call immigrants from Latin countries drug lords, gang members, rapists and murderers? What of a culture where hate crimes against Jews and African Americans is on the rise?
What I love about art is that it still has the power to show. The last thing anyone needs is to be lectured to about how bad Trump is. No one wants to hear that. But films that do more than just pin it on one leader can have a lasting effect on how we relate to others, how we react to what we hear, or how we can sometimes slip into complacency and allow terrible things to happen on our watch.
Knives Out is a who-done-it. It is a funny, Agatha Christie-like mystery that takes place in a big house with many potential suspects. It’s a family of people who are all out for themselves. They are the thieves, and the murderers and the liars. And like Rian Johnson’s Looper, the films leave you with a choice — you can choose to lead with kindness or you can choose to lead with cruelty.
Knives Out, like Jojo Rabbit, isn’t exactly preachy – nor is it cornball – but it hits the right moments at the right times to make its point and to say things with satire that land harder because we are immersed in this story.
If these films this year — Knives Out, Jojo Rabbit and Parasite and Joker are examples of the kind of subversive cinema we’ll be having for the next few years – and no doubt it will be more proof and more fodder for people like Tomi Lahren to complain about how liberal Hollywood is and how much propaganda they serve up and why no one goes to the movies anymore and blah blah blah. But you know what? Doesn’t matter. These films are in the here and now and they will serve as and historical record for America in 2019.
As far as the Oscar race goes, that’s a different question. Just as with previous years, we don’t know which way the coin will fall – whether feel-good films will resonate or those that speak to the angst and anger and pain of the moment. It’s such a competitive year and there are so many films that exist in a different kind of reality, one that still remembers what life without Trump, and the kind of hate he’s ushered in, was like.