Glass Onion and the Filthy Stinking Rich

Joe George

Miles Bron (Edward Norton) is an impressive man. He founded the impressive tech company Alpha, creator of a new fuel system sure to revolutionize travel. He owns an impressive private Greek island dubbed Glass Onion, complete with a mansion topped by a recreation of the titular object. Even the invitations to his parties are impressive, intricate puzzle boxes distributed to his five closest friends.

We see just how impressive those boxes are in an early sequence in Glass Onion. Scientist Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.) stands in his laboratory, inspecting a wooden conundrum consisting of spirals, latches, and switches, a challenge for even a man of Toussaint’s esteemed intellect.

On the phone, Toussaint consults with three other people who received a package from Miles, each influential in their own right. Connecticut governor Claire (Kathryn Hahn) slides abacus discs and reveals hidden slots. At a crowded party, model-turned-fashion designer Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson) squeals at each newly uncovered element, while hulking Internet celebrity Duke Cody (Dave Bautista) looks up clues on the Internet.

The movie cuts wildly between the various participants, sometimes blending them together with audacious split screens. Close-ups and cutaways capture the thrill experienced by each person, happy to finally be faced with a challenge suitable to their station as world-changing influencers. The camera pushes up on Cody’s reverent face as he speaks for all of the friends by saying, “Freaking Miles, man . . . genius.”

No sooner do the words leave his mouth than Cody’s mother, barely looking up from her coffee, casually observes, “That first one’s a Fibonacci sequence.” But the valuable insight fails to earn respect from Cody, who only barks a dismissive, “Ma!”

Gags like this fill Glass Onion, writer-director Rian Johnson’s Netflix follow-up to the 2019 hit Knives Out. Throughout the movie, Johnson uses all of the tools at his disposal—including audacious editing and a bombastic, playful score from Nathan Johnson—to show Miles and his friends as the striking figures they consider themselves to be, only to later reveal them as little more than pompous doofs.

One would expect much of this deflating to come from private detective Benoit Blanc, once again played with off-kilter charm by Daniel Craig. Blanc’s razor-sharp wit was the highlight of Knives Out, in which he delivered wry observations in his syrupy Southern accent. But for the first half of Glass Onion, Blanc seems like a buffoon among buffoons. He stumbles over himself during poolside conversations, asks embarrassing questions over cocktails, and commits faux pas aplenty. In fact, by the time Miles pulls Blanc aside to reveal that he never invited the detective, that the invitation that brought him to the island came from an unknown interlocutor, we’re not surprised. At no point does Blanc fit in among these world changers.

Of course, that’s a good thing. (Mild spoilers ahead.) Ninety minutes and countless twists and turns later, Blanc has figured out the myriad mysteries before him precisely because he doesn’t belong. With the help of another attendee who is not what they seem, Blanc uncovers not only the details of a few murders, but also the hollow nature of the characters’ ambitions.

Blanc uncovers not only the details of a few murders, but also the hollow nature of the characters’ ambitions.

Some might complain that Blanc’s solutions come too easily, that Johnson trades in stereotypes by portraying the rich and powerful as self-important doofuses. But characterizations such as these can be found nearly everywhere, including Scripture.

Take for example the parable Jesus tells in Luke 16, about a poor man named Lazarus and a rich man. Jesus provides very few details about the two characters, only that the rich man “dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day,” while Lazarus was a beggar, “covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table.” When the two men die, Lazarus goes to heaven and the rich man goes to “Hades, where he was in torment . . .”

Several chapters later, Jesus draws his disciples’ attention to a widow giving two coins to the church. “Truly I tell you . . . this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

Time and time again, Scripture reminds us that those who enjoy the wealth and power of the world have a harder time seeing or accepting the radical vision offered by Christ. The things that seem impressive to the world run contrary to Jesus’ teaching. As the Apostle Paul reminds us, “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise.” Simply put, the richer and more impressive one gets, the more difficult it is to remember what matters.

Glass Onion makes that point again and again, not only with Blanc, but also with Miles' former Alpha partner Cassandra Brand, aka Andi (Janelle Monáe). The fifth recipient of Miles' boxes, Andi is not shown in the bravura opening sequence. Johnson does not intercut her into shots of Lionel and Cody and Birdie Jay and Claire solving their puzzles. Instead, the sequence simply ends with Andi standing in a workshop, looking stone-faced at the box. The camera does not move when she walks off screen; when she returns, hammer in hand, she smashes the box open. No self-indulgent technobabble needed, no praises from hangers-on required.

To Miles and his other friends, Andi’s method was foolish, an unimpressive way to handle an impressive puzzle. But as Andi and Blanc uncover the mystery of Glass Onion, they shame Miles and the other worldly-wise disruptors. Without the call of wealth and acclaim to distract them, this unlikely duo follows Scripture’s model, uncovering the truth with unimpressive humility.

Topics: Movies