Arts and Entertainment

Looking Through the Glass Onion

Glass Onion is a cleverly subversive take on the mystery genre that excels in the quality of its writing and performances, despite an underutilized supporting cast and inconsistent pacing.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

“We are disruptors.” Those are the words Glass Onion’s pseudo-hippie billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton) uses to describe his entourage. A disruptor is someone who is willing to break a small thing—a convention, norm, or idea—rather than a bigger thing, and then the biggest thing, something nobody else is willing to break. Glass Onion is just as disruptive as Bron’s crew. It is a hodgepodge of Chekhov’s guns, subversive mystery, and most notably, glass onions. In all its disruption, Glass Onion stands out from its predecessor and other mystery movies.

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022) is an American whodunit film directed by Rian Johnson and the highly anticipated sequel to Knives Out (2019). Daniel Craig reprises his role as the genius detective Benoit Blanc, who receives an invitation to tech billionaire and Alpha CEO Miles Bron’s private island for his murder mystery party. Bron is accompanied by his group of close friends, who he colloquially refers to as “the disruptors.” Connecticut governor Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn), Alpha head scientist Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.), former model Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson), right-wing YouTuber Duke Cody (Dave Bautista) and his much younger girlfriend Whiskey (Madelyn Cline), and Bron's estranged business partner Cassandra “Andi” Brand (Janelle Monáe).

Monáe and Craig’s performances are the highlights of the film. Craig entertainingly portrays Benoit Blanc through his signature witty mannerisms and bombastic, drawled line delivery, while Monáe shines alongside him with an exceptionally multilayered performance. The supporting cast also has its moments, with Norton’s charismatic rendition as the Musk-like billionaire Bron and Bautista’s humorous performance as boorish meathead Duke Cody. The superb acting is complemented by Glass Onion’s brilliant dialogue, notably Bron’s “disruptors” speech and Blanc’s final monologue, both of which bring wit and sophistication to the film.

Another standout quality of the movie is its intricately subversive plot. Glass Onion offers a unique take on the mystery genre in a multitude of ways. No actual murder occurs until the second act, and instead of revealing the mystery in the end, it is unveiled in the middle of the film through a series of flashbacks that recontextualize the movie’s entire first half. However, the film mostly subverts the genre through its recurring glass onion metaphor, a term originating from the Beatles song “Glass Onion,” which signifies people”s tendency to overanalyze simple things. In this vein, Glass Onion’s mystery contains many layers that give it an apparent complexity, yet the solution—the “core” of it—is crystal clear once one stops searching for a greater meaning. Unlike many of your run-of-the-mill whodunits, where the mystery’s intricacies run deep and the solution requires analysis of each layer, Glass Onion’s mystery is shallow, simplistic, and uninteresting. However, as a testament to the movie’s exceptional quality, Glass Onion manages to retain an enthralling story through this extended metaphor and its high caliber of writing.

Though Glass Onion is packed with great writing and acting, it is not without its “disruptive” qualities. While the movie does contain many stellar performances, many of the supporting actors feel vastly underused despite the film’s large ensemble. Compared to the supporting cast of Knives Out, many of Glass Onion’s characters feel one-note and forgettable, especially Peg (Birdie’s assistant), Claire, and Lionel. Glass Onion also suffers from pacing issues, especially in the second act, when the entire story pauses for a half-hour long flashback. Though it does not completely ruin the film’s pacing, the middle of the movie drags on for just a bit too long.

Outside of these issues, Glass Onion’s message seems to be another “monumental flaw” that bogs down the viewing experience, according to a certain group of billionaire-loving people. Glass Onion is unapologetically critical of wealth and the people who hold it, with this critique first showcased through Blanc’s investigation of Bron’s entourage and their potential motives for killing Bron in order to use his wealth. However, lying at the core of director Rian Johnson’s critique of the ultra-rich is Bron himself. Initially portrayed as a charismatic supergenius, Bron reveals his true colors as a conniving, self-centered narcissist, in addition to an idiotic, unoriginal loser who will go to the extent of murdering his own business partner just to make more money. Bron represents society’s “self-made billionaire,” and Johnson seeks to critique this image by satirizing his character. Moreover, Glass Onion sets itself apart from other thematically similar movies by offering some sort of solution: burning the whole system down. This is best exemplified by the literal burning of Bron’s island home, orchestrated by his group of “disruptors.” After realizing the justice system will not serve justice to the deserving Bron, they take action into their own hands and create a true disruption.

Glass Onion once again demonstrates Rian Johnson’s ability to intelligently subvert the mystery genre by flipping it on its head with a distinct plot structure and an unconventional murder mystery executed with great precision and care. This “disruptive” masterpiece is elevated by its stellar writing; remarkable performances from Daniel Craig, Janelle Monáe, and other supporting cast members; and a poignant message regarding the wealthy and their idolized image. Though it suffers from an underutilized supporting cast and somewhat inconsistent pacing, Glass Onion remains an enjoyable viewing experience for those exploring the “whodunit” genre. The only question that remains is how director Rian Johnson will continue to put his own twist on the mystery genre in the third Knives Out movie.