Warning: This post is full of SPOILERS for the end of Knives Out. If you want to experience this whodunit to its full extent, turn back now.
If you’ve already seen Rian Johnson's new mystery film (or are one of those people who likes to know what happens in movies ahead of time and are at peace with that), you probably want to talk about the ending of Knives Out. It all happens really fast, but it's also pretty damn brilliant, so let's dig into all the details of the newest addition to the Cinematic Projectile Vomiting Hall of Fame.
The mystery in Knives Out, from writer-director Johnson, is this: an 85-year-old man, Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), is found dead by his housekeeper, Fran (Edi Patterson), the morning after his birthday party. Many of his family members are staying in his mansion following the party, so they’re all suspects in the eyes of Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), who has been mysteriously called in to work on the case with an even more mysterious southern accent. Blanc starts working in conjunction with Harlan’s nurse, Marta (Ana de Armas), because she cannot tell a lie without throwing up — a very convenient characteristic when dealing with a murder investigation.
The thing is, Marta believes she accidentally gave Harlan a lethal dose of his medicine, which made him decide to make it look like he was murdered, quickly teaching her how to answer any questions from authorities with what is technically the truth, so that she won’t throw up. Harlan is a crime novelist — a very convenient job when you need to make your accidental death look like an intentional murder to save your beloved nurse.
There’s a lot of questioning of the various family members and digging into evidence that may be in Harlan’s home or on its grounds, but to fast forward to the end of the movie, Marta ends up working with Harlan’s grandson, Ransom (Chris Evans) after the rest of the family members turn on her when it’s revealed that Harlan left her his entire estate. Marta confesses everything to Ransom and believes he is actually trying to help her; meanwhile, Blanc has figured out that Ransom is behind the entire thing, and was trying to frame Marta after finding out that his grandfather was leaving his estate to her. Blanc also realized that Ransom was the one who anonymously called him in to investigate.
Now, for the part at the very end where Blanc runs through Ransom’s entire plot, which happens so fast that you might miss an intricate detail or two: Blanc has deduced that Ransom switched the labels the two medicines that Marta gives Harlan — one being morphine, which is lethal if given at the dose of the other medication — and that he also stole the antidote from her bag. But, Marta instinctually gave Harlan the correct dose of both medications, because rather than looking at the labels, she knows the weight and feel of each liquid, which means she grabbed the right medication despite the mix-up (one liquid is more viscous than the other). Unfortunately, she did look at the label after giving Harlan the medication, leading him to believe he was about to die, which leads him to commit suicide as part of the coverup to save Marta. (Blanc got this information after finding a toxicology report that Fran hid in the home and seeing that there wasn’t actually a high dose of morphine in Harlan’s system in a truly masterful scene earlier in the movie.)
Before the reveal of Ransom being the true culprit of the entire situation (though, technically, not of Harlan’s death), Ransom also tried, in a last-ditch effort, to frame Marta for the murder of Fran by giving her a high dose of morphine. Marta was able to find Fran and have her rushed to the hospital, which kind of ruined that plan.
After Blanc’s big speech about Ransom’s plot, Marta receives a call from the hospital and tells Ransom and Blanc that Fran is alive. Ransom, now believing he can’t be found guilty for her murder or for Harlan’s, admits to poisoning Fran and to burning down the medical examiner’s office in an attempt to destroy Harlan’s blood and test results. Suddenly, Marta vomits on Ransom, revealing that she lied, that Fran is dead, and that Ransom just admitted to killing her and to arson. Ransom then tries in a last-last-ditch effort to stab Marta with one of Harlan’s knives, but it ends up being from Harlan’s trick knife collection. At this point in the film, you’re really rooting hard for Marta, so this graphic vomit/fake knife combo is really a joy.
With Ransom out of the picture — and all of Harlan’s other relatives being awful — Marta retains her inheritance of the estate and the film ends with her chilling on the mansion’s balcony with a cup of coffee, shifting her finger just enough to reveal the goofy "My House" line on Harlan's jokey mug. (Perfection.)
The bottom line, if you’re just looking for the person whodunit out of this big ensemble cast: It was Chris Evans aka Ransom! But if you're looking for the killer, that actually never changed — it was Harlan the whole time. Ransom didn’t actually kill Harlan, but rather led to his death by concocting a really messed up scheme that lines up a series of dominos that lead Harlan no choice. However, Ransom is a murderer because he murdered the housekeeper. And set a medical examiner’s office on fire.