I believe that secrets in storytelling are some of the most potent narrative components at the writer’s disposal. Secrets shape character and plot. Additionally, they are prodigious subtext generators.
Let’s look into how secrets conspire to keep readers and audiences engaged,
How Secrets Affect the Plot
In Knives Out, the central plot revolves around the mysterious death of wealthy crime novelist Harlan Thrombey. As the story unfolds, we discover that each family member has something to hide. It’s the nurse, Marta Cabrera, however, who holds the biggest secret: she accidentally administered a lethal dose of medication to Harlan, thinking it was harmless.
This secret sets the entire plot in motion. It leads to the investigation by the gifted detective Benoit Blanc, who begins to unveil a series of family secrets, lies, and betrayals. Without Marta’s secret, the murder mystery at the heart of the tale would not exist.
Knives Out excels in generating subtext through the characters’ secrets. Each family member hides his or her motives, manipulations, and true feelings about Harlan’s will. Ransom Drysdale, for instance, pretends to be close to his grandfather while secretly plotting to get his hands on the inheritance.
These secret agendas create a rich tapestry of subtext, helping the audience to piece together the puzzle of the characters’ true intentions. We’re constantly on edge while we try to decipher their motivations, thanks to the secrets they harbour.
“Secrets are prodigious generators of subtext.”
Beyond impacting the plot and creating subtext, secrets play a powerful role in character development. Take Marta Cabrera for example. Her secret—her overwhelming guilt, changes her from a passive character into an active one. She becomes not just a nurse, but a central figure in the investigation.
As Marta grapples with her secret, we witness her character arc, seeing her evolve from simply being an observer to someone who actively pursues the truth, despite the risks. This transformation would not be possible without the secret she carries, making her one of the most compelling characters in the film.
Keeping Readers and Audiences Engaged
Another significant thing a character’s secret does for a story is to keep the audience engaged and invested. In Knives Out, the audience is constantly guessing, intuiting, theorising, in an attempt to fit the pieces of the puzzle together. The secrets serve as bait, luring viewers into the intricate web of deceit and suspense.
As the film progresses, we do not remain as passive observers, we become active participants in solving the mystery. Our emotional investment in uncovering the truth keeps us locked-in from beginning to end, underscoring the power of secrets in storytelling.
Knives Out masterfully demonstrates how well-constructed character secrets shape the plot, add subtext, aid in character development, and keep audiences and readers engaged.