Glass Onion: Perfectly Transparent Complexity

Disruption. Shifting and breaking, a massive cultural upheaval, a course-altering redefinition of what we believe to know. Status quo anarchy, shattering expectations and rebuilding a broken system from the ground up. It’s time to change things up, to do things a little differently, to be novel and fresh voices in the world of innovation and technology. Disruption is the future. Disruption will make your life more immediately convenient, it will push aside the obnoxious minutia and frustrations of the life you once knew, it will promise a new and better world.

At least, that’s how it’s sold to us. In reality, it never really is disruption. It is the polished and sanitized redundant ideation of things we’ve already seen in order to sell it back at a premium under a shiny new coat. It is corroding functionally regulated systems to replace them with ones that can play loose with the rules, allowing the maximization of profits and the construction of a façade of convenience at the expense of the working class. It is being so completely careless about anything besides your endless avarice that capitalizing on the misfortune of normal people only causes an even more destructive cycle of pain and suffering. It is not disruption. It is just the new world order built by people with enough money to shape everything around them to their every whim.

It’s hard to argue with a film that creates a caricature of Elon Musk to point out that he is a moronic clown whose entire cult of personality revolves around how his unmatched intellectual prowess will singlehandedly save the world, all while he builds his empire on the suffering of others and continues to prove demonstrably that he’s truly just an idiot whose father’s apartheid emerald mine provided the capital for him to buy into several companies he didn’t actually start. On the surface, of course, it doesn’t seem like any of this makes a whole lot of sense to pack into Rian Johnson’s follow-up to the 2019 riotous smash hit murder mystery Knives Out, but Glass Onion doesn’t miss a beat in its effort to deconstruct the inane mythos of the conservative elite.

Glass Onion. Dir. Rian Johnson.

Johnson’s career has been consistently bold and always woven with an authorial voice that refuses to be confined, whether it be the stringent commitment to the noir-drenched teenage malaise of Brick (2005) or the endlessly earnest, legacy deconstructing divergences of The Last Jedi (2017). Once more unto the breach, Glass Onion may not have much interest in the way of subtlety, but the unwavering confidence with which he wields his frustrations is as successful as ever. It never strays too far from the path laid by Knives Out, to both its strength and its detriment, but while Knives Out painted broad strokes at a dysfunctional, out of touch family of generational wealth as a pointed reminder of how the performative veneer of the rich only extends as far as it can keep them enshrined in their isolated comfort and endless supply of funds, Glass Onion gets aggressively hyperspecific in its characterizations of airheaded Silicon Valley “disruptors” desperately grasping onto a moneymaking savior hellbent on legacy.

The suave and drawling Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) has yet again been summoned to solve a high profile murder – only this time, the murder is yet to happen. Blanc, along with a group of pointedly obnoxious assholes who stand-in as fairly blunt reflections of the rich we so aggressively idolize, receives a mysterious puzzle box serving as an invitation to meet on a private island and solve the murder of tech magnate Miles Bron (Edward Norton with a name precariously walking the line between plausibly deniable and incredibly obvious, though there’s not much in the way of hiding the parallels drawn by Bron’s empire of businesses, which include green energy and space travel, and a pointed conversation about Bron’s incoherent lightbulb moments being forced into production by overworked engineers). Arriving to the Greek island with Bron’s gaggle of best friends, his “disruptors,” the gears start to turn when Blanc realizes his presence at this murder mystery dinner party soiree may have come with more sinister baggage than expected. It’s all a mystery now, with every piece of the puzzle still to be solved, with no current victim, motive, or purpose, but the social fabric of the group quickly begins to unravel as Blanc slowly extracts information.

This is Johnson at his most consistently capable, his ability to deconstruct and reshape the film’s arching wrap while keeping it all eminently compelling and fascinating just as strong as ever. It’s clear he’s acutely aware of every expectation, knowing exactly where to stop and point while he deliberately shifts from the established rules, and knowing that there’s a neat simplicity to it all at the center as he spins and forms the complex construction of a glass onion that you can see right through the entire time. Obvious maybe but always charming to constantly loop back on itself as it literalizes its title to point you in one direction while it does the same thing with the film itself. Glass Onion assures us it really isn’t that complex. They will construct a mythos, they will lie through their teeth, they will fight tooth and nail to protect themselves and their money, they will do everything they can to fool you into believing it’s all clever brilliance, that it all came from hard work and ingenuity. They’re just dumb and hateful. You can see right through them.


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