Knives Out Wiki

Harlan Thrombey is a wealthy mystery fiction author and the patriarch of the Thrombey family, whose mysterious death sets the plot in motion. In the film, he is portrayed by Christopher Plummer.


Final Evening[]

The family of Harlan Thrombey, a wealthy mystery novelist, attends his 85th birthday party at his Massachusetts mansion.


Due to the mix-up, Harlan believed he had less than ten minutes to live, and that the Slayer rule would therefore disqualify Marta from his inheritance. With this in mind, he chose to end his own life, in order to protect Marta and her family. Harlan stopped Marta from calling an ambulance, and gave her a solid (albeit complicated) alibi which would allow her to avoid any suspicion regarding his death.

At the last moment, Marta turned around, perhaps hoping she could change Harlan's mind, but arrives just in time to see Harlan slit his own throat.


His housekeeper, Fran, finds him dead the next morning with his throat slit. The police believe Harlan's death to be suicide, but private detective Benoit Blanc is anonymously hired to investigate. Blanc learns Harlan had strained relationships with his family, having made threats that day to his son-in-law Richard and daughter-in-law Joni, fired his son Walt, and had an argument with his grandson Ransom.


Unknown to Blanc, Harlan's nurse, Marta Cabrera, mixed up his medications after the party, apparently overdosing him with morphine, and was unable to find the antidote, seemingly leaving Harlan only minutes to live. Harlan gave her instructions to create a false alibi before slitting his own throat to protect her. Marta cannot lie without vomiting, so she gives accurate but incomplete answers when questioned. She agrees to assist Blanc's investigation but conceals evidence of her actions. When Harlan's will is read, Marta is the sole beneficiary, shocking and angering his family. Ransom helps Marta escape, but he manipulates her into confessing to him; he offers to help her in exchange for some of the inheritance, while the rest of the family try to persuade or threaten Marta to renounce the inheritance.

Marta receives a blackmail note with a partial photocopy of Harlan's toxicology report. She and Ransom drive to the medical examiner's office, but it has burned down. Marta receives an email proposing a rendezvous with the blackmailer, while Ransom is arrested after a brief car chase. At the rendezvous, Marta finds Fran drugged. She performs CPR and calls an ambulance. She confesses to Blanc, though Ransom has already implicated her, and she decides to admit causing Harlan's death, which would invalidate her inheritance under the slayer rule.

Back at the mansion, Marta finds Fran's copy of the full toxicology report, and gives it to Blanc. It shows Harlan had only a small amount of morphine in his system. Blanc explains to Ransom and Marta his deductions: that Harlan had told Ransom of the intended will, and that Ransom had then swapped Harlan's medicines to ensure that as the killer, Marta would be ineligible to claim the inheritance. However, Marta had given Harlan the correct medication, subconsciously recognizing it; she only thought she had poisoned him after reading the label. When the death was reported as a suicide, Ransom anonymously hired Blanc to expose Marta. Fran saw Ransom tampering with the crime scene and sent him the blackmail note. After Ransom realized Marta was not responsible for Harlan's death, but Marta still thought she was, he forwarded the blackmail letter to Marta and burned down the medical examiner's office to destroy evidence of her innocence. He then overdosed Fran with morphine, intending for Marta to get caught with Fran's corpse.

The hospital calls; Marta relays that Fran survived and will implicate Ransom. He scoffs that since his attempt to kill Fran failed, his lawyers will help him escape arson and attempted murder charges. Marta then vomits on him, revealing that she lied: Fran is dead. Realizing he has confessed to the murder, with the conversation being recorded, Ransom attacks Marta with a knife from Harlan's collection, which turns out to be a retractable stage knife. The police promptly arrest him.

Blanc tells Marta he suspected early on that she played a part in Harlan's death, noting a drop of blood on her shoe. As Ransom is taken into custody, Marta watches from the balcony of what is now her mansion, with the Thrombey family gathered outside.


Harlan's character flaw is his flair for the dramatic. He writes his own family out of his will in the hope that they will build something for themselves rather than freeloading off of, and riding, his successes. Though Harlan comes across as well-intentioned and charismatic, he did not think clearly about the consequences for Marta and her family stemming from the staging of his own murder.

When it comes to his work, he despises the idea of his novels being adapted to film, despite all the money he could get. He believes film will be unable to capture the essence of his novels accurately.


He died on the night of his 85th Birthday, by throat slitting suicide.

Harlan Thrombey has an estate worth over $64 million, a publishing empire with 80 million books sold worldwide, and a massive mansion that he bought from a Pakistani real estate baron, and has decorated it with elements from his own story. The books that he wrote as an author became very successful.