Knives Out and the predator among us
Good murder mysteries like Knives Out make a point rather beautifully. The bad guy is always one of us.
There’s a lot to love in Knives Out by director Rian Johnson. There’s a mansion, there are beautiful people, and there’s a murder mystery as twisty and satisfying as perfectly-made curly fries. Dame Agatha Christie would be proud of this 21st century take on the genre that she once dominated. In addition to being thoroughly fun and giving the viewer the joy of watching actors like Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette and Chris Evans share screen time, Johnson’s film also takes a hammer to social prejudice (and with such elegance!).
If you’re looking for a date night movie, Knives Out is the one you want to watch (and not Housefull 4, which thinks rape is ripe for joke and effeminate men are comic punching bags).
This is on the premise that it’s safe for you to be out on a date or even out of the house.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the above sentence is that everyone reading it will immediately assume “you” refers to women and girls. No one thinks men – particularly heterosexual men – are unsafe in public spaces. (Trans men have a very different take on this subject.) Women, meanwhile, tend to have it drummed into them that by virtue of being feminine, they’re also vulnerable.
The news only confirms these fears. A woman, leaving a nightclub, is offered a lift by a group of men who gang rape her in a moving car and then dump her when they’re done. A physiotherapy student goes to watch Life of Pi and her efforts to return home quickly land her in a trap laid by a group of men who gang rape her and then dump her when they’re done. A girl goes to watch horses grazing and is abducted by a group of men who gang rape her, murder her and dump her body when they’re done. A veterinary doctor, on her way home, finds her parked scooter has a flat tyre – it’s a trap – and is then preyed upon by a group of men who gang rape her, murder her and then dump her when they’re done.
There’s a pattern here. The prey shapeshifts, but the predators remain the same. Yet invariably, while women spontaneously identify with victims of violent crimes, men distance themselves from the perpetrators. All women can be victims, but not all men are predators, we’re told repeatedly. So all women should be afraid, but no man other than the accused needs to take any responsibility for the toxic masculinity that dominates our culture and public discourse.
Every time a violent crime against a woman or girl is reported, the perpetrators are depicted as exceptions. The subtext of this narrative is that the bad guys are not representative of most men. Never mind that women are preyed upon by men who are strangers as well as familiars. While tragedies like last week’s rape and murder of a veterinary doctor in the outskirts of Hyderabad show how unsafe public spaces are for women, statistics show private spaces are even more dangerous. Most child predators are trusted familiars – fathers, brothers, uncles. Those who abuse their wives are often the ones sitting at head of the table during family functions. They’re everyday men, doing everyday things. They’re men like you.
Good murder mysteries like Knives Out make that point rather beautifully. The bad guy is always one of us.