Music fans might be familiar with the phrase “Glass Onion” as the name of a John Lennon and Paul McCartney song and that song is on the soundtrack of Rian Johnson’s new film, “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” but you won’t see any bent-backed tulips or strawberry fields or walruses. A musical figure does appear and a Beatle is mentioned, but the “Glass Onion”represents a form of nostalgia that binds together the friends who are invited to an annual weekend of fun by their brilliant billionaire friend. This year (2020), the theme is a murder mystery and, as you’ve come to expect, there will be a real murder.
The rich man in question is Miles Bron (Edward Norton), the CEO and founder of technology Alpha Industries. His four besties include his head scientist at Alpha Industries Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.), governor of Connecticut Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn) who is now running for the senator, former supermodel turned fashion mogul Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson) and Twitch star and men’s rights advocate Duke Cody (Dave Bautista). He has sent each of them a puzzle box made of wood, but with an unusual grain pattern with a card reading: To my dear friend, my beautiful disrupter, my closest inner circle.”
Birdie is attended to by her personal assistant, Peg (Jessica Henwick), who seems to the brains behind Birdie’s empire, and Duke’s girlfriend and channel assistant, Whiskey (Madelyn Cline) also joins the party. A former member of the circle, Cassandra “Andi” Brand (Janelle Monáe), also shows up much to the consternation of the assembled guests. Andi and Miles had been an item, but they had an acrimonious breakup, leaving all wondering why she decided to attend. To this group comes an unexpected addition, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig).
Johnson, who wrote and directed the film, doesn’t ignore the COVID-19 pandemic, he embraces it, using it to show aspects of the characters. Birdie blithely rationalized her continued partying, saying that the people are all part her extensive pod. When she shows up to the pier to go to Miles’ private island, her face mask is an artful, but useless wide mesh. Duke might have been forced to live with his mother or perhaps that’s the way he navigates life as a Twitch influencer. An efficient assistant provides a fictional means that allows all the characters to roam maskless on the island.
Blanc has been living in his bathtub due to pandemic depression and has been playing “Among Us,” a roleplaying video game about both betrayal and team work (according to Apple). You’re preparing for liftoff on your spaceship and some of the crew members are imposters who wish to kill everyone. This provides an opportunity for one of the delightful cameos of the late legends Angela Lansbury and Stephen Sondheim, who are on a Zoom call with Benoit (who lies to them about being in the bathtub again). Also in on the Zoom call game are Natasha Lyonne and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Blanc, not unlike Sherlock Holmes, needs real mysteries to solve and playing “Clue” won’t help. He needs real people with real problems. “I need danger, the hunt, the challenge. Benoit is the first new person at this private event in eight years. He says, “I’ve learned through bitter experience, an anonymous invitation is not to be trifled with.”
Benoit wants to understand just how these disparate people came together and what Miles means by “disrupters.” Miles explains, If you want to shake things up, you start with something small.” He recommends something that is broken and so many people want changed, but have not spoken up to address the problem. That’s not so uncommon, but the true disrupters are those who “will keep going” not just beyond what others want, but even when your significant other or partner says you need to stop. Miles believes that “nobody wants you to break the system itself.”
That might mean speaking the truth, but Benoit cautions, “It’s a dangerous thing to mistake speaking without thought with speaking the truth.” The Glass Onion is the island paradise home that Miles has built and powers with a newly invented energy source. Each guest has a private room, but the public areas feel like an intimate high-end art gallery, filled with glass objects, many related to actual famous art pieces. In addition, there’s a Matisse in the bathroom, a Van Gogh in the communication room and in the meeting area, a Da Vinci.
The weekend murder mystery is quickly disposed of, but then the lights go out and someone has been shot. By the end, Benoit will unravel a murder mystery, one that you won’t be able to figure out, and while mystery fans might feel cheated, this is a delightful journey, with plenty of cameos and name dropping on the way to a final flourish. There will be some reference to the onion as a metaphor for intimacy and social relationships, but it isn’t heavy. Nothing here is. The cast is fairly diverse, featuring not only two African American actors, but also two Hapa actors. Bautista is part Filipino while Henwick is part Singaporean-Chinese of Teochew descent. For this, I don’t grumble about the longtime truth that Hapa seem more acceptable than non-Hapa or Hapa that are of two API descent.
“Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” shatters expectations of a pandemic-influenced film. While not better or as good as “Knives Out,” this is a solid sequel with excellent ensemble work that is transparent in its parody of pop culture. “Glass Onion” made its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival and began a limited theatrical release on 23 November 2022. It will begin streaming on Netflix on 23 December 2022.
I told you about strawberry fieldsYou know the place where nothing is real Well here’s another place you can go Where everything flows.Looking through the bent-backed tulipsTo see how the other half live Looking through a glass onion.I told you about the walrus and me, manYou know we’re as close as can be, man Well here’s another clue for you all The walrus was Paul.Standing on the cast iron shore, yeahLady Madonna trying to make ends meet, yeah Looking through the glass onionOh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeahLooking through the glass onion.I told you about the fool on the hillI tell you man he’s living there still Well here’s another place you can be Listen to me.Fixing a hole in the oceanTrying to make a dove-tail joint, yeah Looking through a glass onion.