Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery ★★★★

This was the first sentence I wrote for this review: "Glass Onion is like Knives Out minus the engaging politics." I then wrote the second sentence: "Still enjoyable and maintains the razor-twisted formula, but it lacks the self-reflection and civic edge that greeted the original and made for a great roundtable Thanksgiving discussion." 

I then wrote the rest of the review and allowed my journey of thinking about the film to complicate how I really feel about its politics. Always be open to the universe, dear reader. That's rule #1 for me: Don’t spill yer beans about a film before writing about it. And now, my Glass Onion review.

Knives Out was uniquely suited to discuss American immigration, class warfare, and the pretension of possessing a nation. I loved how the Thrombey house became this metaphor of entitlement. I loved how cozy yet claustrophobic the location felt to unpack the structures of power baked into American society. Marta, an immigrant outsider, gained our empathy in relation to the question, "Who shall inherit a house?" which was really exodus code for "Who shall inherit a country?" I never got the feeling Rian Johnson was condemning a single political position as he was inviting us to ask, "Where do I fit into this family?", "Am I a suspect?", and "Do I maintain an image of advocacy while contributing to the harm of others being affected by current policies?" 

Glass Onion also has something to say about liberal hypocrisy, but the targets feel easy this time around because they seem more like caricatures than dimensional human beings existing on a spectrum of gray. This might serve a purpose, but I'll need to see it again since the plot is crazy complicated and not entirely klear. My first impulse was that it felt like another skewer-the-rich parable that didn't thematically offer much beyond a self-congratulatory high-five. The first film drew out an empathetic response towards outsiders directly affected by the moral and economic superiority of the elite, critiquing those who think they've earned what they've inherited while living off the backs of others. This latest iteration is somewhat more beguiling, as it combines the super rich of Silicon Valley with the super rich of Hollywood, making you believe it's just a story about the rich eating the super-rich when it's really about the underdogs seeking social justice in America. 

One character here is pretty enigmatic, a figure who comes daringly close to the empathy I felt toward Marta. I love the belief this character holds of burning the system down to avenge the wrongs committed by a severely corrupt bodypolitik, but the victory only works if you really believe the rich idiots of the story will be held accountable for their crimes. Would the rich actually sacrifice their reputation to put the nefarious rich in jail? Would the rich actually testify in court against the nefarious rich, even if it brought shame to their names? Would the rich truly act on principle when it becomes inconvenient to shaping their egos? I struggle to find such integrity in contemporary American politics, let alone the contemporary Hollywood star system. I guess that just means it's human nature to cover-up what is unflattering, ugly, and evil, but it also means Glass Onion works more as a fun and witty diatribe and less as a fun and witty dialogue (like the original). 

Glass Onion seems very bent on giving us a reason to celebrate the trolling and overthrowing of the most privileged players of the story, but it's hard to celebrate this fiction when there are so few Blancs and principled people in the world (or so it seems). This is where Rian Johnson turns to the inspiring realm of art to transcend our social problems without resolving any of them. Peter Bondanella said, "Filmic art can only offer consolation of beauty and the hope that its images and ideas may move the spectator to social action that will change the world." I think I might adapt this line to draw even closer to the film's biggest idea: Filmic art can only offer the seeds of revolution and the hope that its images and ideas may move the spectator to rage against the machine until the system is entirely burnt to the ground awaiting to be reborn. I think Rian's new film is attempting to do this, however imperfectly. I also think he just wanted to make a Reservoir Dogs-styled pressure cooker that watches the wicked destroy the wicked. There is something pleasurable about watching the stupidly rich watch their fantasy tech palaces go up in a plume of smoke, even it feels like nothing more than a liberal wet dream. Keep dreaming, Rian, you beautiful, big-hearted filmmaker you. 

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