Rian Johnson Explained the Literary Roots of the “Knives Out” Films

A recent interview with the filmmaker offers some notable book recommendations

Rian Johnson, 2019
Rian Johnson during the 42nd Annual Denver Film Festival on October 31, 2019
Thomas Cooper/Getty Images

In a 2022 interview with Nicholas Quah for Vulture around the release of Glass Onion, the film’s writer/director, Rian Johnson, talked about where his own tastes in fictional detectives lies. Johnson cited the early-20th century mystery writer John Dickson Carr in effusive terms. “He has a detective named Gideon Fell, who’s currently my favorite whodunit detective,” Johnson told Quah. “He’s modeled on G.K. Chesterton. He’s this big, huge, massive man who walks on two canes and is kind of a total asshole and is just hilarious.”

At least one person read those words and went on to pick up and read several John Dickson Carr novels. (Me. I’m the “at least one person” here. Assumably someone else did as well, but I know for a fact that I did this. I have the receipts and everything.) Johnson is entirely correct: Carr’s detective fiction is ingenious and abounds with memorable characters; it’s not remotely out of line to say that if you’ve enjoyed Benoit Blanc’s onscreen appearances, you’ll find a lot to like in Carr’s work as well.

Johnson also wrote the introduction for a new edition of one of the Gideon Fell mysteries, The Problem of the Wire Cage, a murder mystery involving a tennis court. In an expansive interview with Olivia Rutigliano at CrimeReads, Johnson offered more details on the connections between detective fiction and his own forays into the genre. That includes brushing up on his mystery reading in the aftermath of Knives Out. “I grew up reading Agatha Christie. That was kind of the extent,” Johnson told CrimeReads. “Even when I sat down to write Knives Out, that was kind of the breadth of my mystery knowledge.” Once the film was over, he added, he began delving more deeply into the genre.

As for when we might expect to see another appearance of Benoit Blanc on screen, Johnson shared that he ‘s “in the middle of writing the third movie” with CrimeReads. So that’s one mystery partially solved.

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It’s also worth mentioning that Johnson is not immune to the allure of a well-designed book. As he told Rutigliano of his first exposure to John Dickson Carr’s fiction, “it was The Mad Hatter Murders because the cover was so cool.” In the opinion of this writer, he’s absolutely correct.

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