The smash hit Knives Out has been hailed as a masterfully constructed murder mystery/whodunit, and even scored a Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination, but one of the most iconic shots in the film was actually a bit of a fortuitous accident. Writer/director Rian Johnson meticulously constructed Knives Out from start to finish to be a thrilling, rewatchable joy ride. He was so specific in the building of the film’s narrative that he knew he wanted to break the tension of the film’s opening shot—which is a dramatic showcase of Harlan Thrombey’s mansion—with a shot of a kitschy joke mug, followed by other inserts of various objects around the house that give you a feel for who Harlan Thrombey is as a person before you even meet him.
Fans of Knives Out are well aware that—spoiler alert—the final shot of the film brings that joke mug back in a perfect button on the story that’s unfolded thus far. Thrombey’s nurse and caretaker Marta (Ana de Armas) spends most of the film under the impression that she accidentally murdered Thrombey, and is used and abused by the surviving members of the Thrombey clan at every turn. By the film’s end, Marta has been vindicated and takes ownership of the mansion (Thrombey left it to her in his will), and the final shot is Marta looking down on the rich, petty, and jealous Thrombeys. She brings the mug from the opening shot up to her lips to literally sip tea, and the mug says, “My house, my rules, my coffee.” Roll credits.
It’s a perfect joke to end on, but as it turns out that specific button was a bit of a happy accident. Appearing on the Empire podcast, Johnson revealed how the mug shot came to be:
“It’s funny that was—it wasn’t an accident, but it was kind of an accident. A happy accident. I knew I wanted her to like sip tea in the final shot, and I had had separately the idea of ‘My house, my rules, my coffee,’ as that first shot in the movie—after that first big dramatic shot of the house, breaking the tension with kind of a goofy modern joke mug. And I was like, ‘Oh she can have that at the end!’ Then when we were doing that close-up, she was up in the balcony and I yelled up, ‘Sip the tea!’ and she brought it into frame and those words came up and I was just like, ‘Oh that’s pretty nice.’”
That is pretty nice. Seriously, that ending is just the cherry on top of the delightful sundae that is Knives Out, and hearing Johnson describe how that particular plot point came to be is a fascinating bit of insight into the creative process that gifted us a film as delicious as Knives Out.
For more on the film, check out Allie’s editorial on how the film’s success paves the way forward for theatrical experiences.