glass onion is the song with which John Lennon makes fun of those fans who believe in the existence of other meanings in the production of Beatles («I told you about strawberry fields / You know the place where nothing is real»). Metaphorically speaking, the glass onion it’s the song that comes peeled for reveal its secret content: the irony of the text derives from the fact that, precisely because of the material it is made of, the interior is already visible from the outside, therefore it does not contain anything that needs to be brought to light (“looking through a glass onion»). However unabashedly sarcastic and accusing (the fan is called a «fool on the hill» trying to «fixing a hole in the ocean»), the third track of the White Albums (1968) has not stopped the spread of the well-known conspiracy theories that want Sir Paul McCartney died the year before in a car accident and then replaced with a double (“Well, here’s another clue for you all / The walrus was Paul”). And this is also “fault” of the alluring and cunning nature of the song, whose ambiguous text reformulates the verses of some songs contained in the albums published in 1967, Magical Mystery Tour and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
It’s pretty clear that Rian Johnson was inspired by the song by the Beatles for the plot of his Glass Onion: Knives Out, sequel to the very lucky Dinner with Crime: Knives Out (2019). In practice, the Netflix film could be explained through the words of Lennon / McCartney. It all starts with one fool on the hill named Miles Bron (Edward Norton), multi-billionaire head of a well-known cutting-edge technology company, who during the lockdown gathers lifelong friends for a nice weekend with the dead. Among the group are Senator Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn), scientist Lionel Toussant (Leslie Odom Jr.), supermodel Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson) with Peg assistant (Jessica Henwick), streamer Duke Cody (Dave Bautista) and girlfriend Whiskey (Madelyn Cline), and former partner Cassandra Brand (Janelle Monae); to these is added the best detective in the world, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), but no one knows why he received an invitation. The place for the pretend dinner with murder is a Greek island whose rocky height is occupied by a gigantic villa which has the so-called roof on it glass onion, or a spherical and transparent structure where Bron keeps the most precious assets (which tell the story, the success, the future projects). Obviously there will be a real assassination and it will be up to Blanc to solve the case.
Strengthened by an iron screenplay written by Johnson himself, Murder by Death: Knives Out targeted the North American far right by exposing the greed and hypocrisies of a family of wealthy privileged whites (three different generations). The plot exploded when the will of the progenitor Harlan Thrombey (a great Christopher Plummer), found with his throat cut at the beginning of the film. Shortly before his death, for a final spat on a progeny of ruthless upstarts, the famous mystery writer had indicated his personal nurse, a shy and kind Mexican girl (very good Ana de Armas), as the sole recipient of the immense family inheritance. So what at first seemed like a simple case of suicide was actually “a case with a hole in the middle, a donut”; in the original language Benoit Blanc uses the word donuts which calls for expression whodunit (who did it?), a different way to indicate the yellow genre. Instead in Glass Onion: Knives Out the US director attacks another type of privilege, another type of hypocrisy, that of the great geniuses of technology who want to “save” the planet from climate change and fossil fuels (fix a hole in the ocean).
With this second chapter of a hypothetical trilogy of crimes (and wrecks), Rian Johnson he has a lot of fun making an Elon Musk parody of the situation, just like he did Adam McKay with the sci-fi grotesque Don’t Look Up (2021). In fact too Glass Onion: Knives Out pushes on satirical comedy and expands on a global level (from the family microcosm to that of the powerful), without losing the brilliant gaze on issues that belong to our present. This time the center from the donut it is not racism but the lust for power that, ironically, the director couples with self-centeredness, sloth, stupidity and vacuity (the wickedness of his pen is always amusing). Each character who arrives on the island has a side of the personality that makes him ridiculous in the eyes of us spectators and of the very elegant (queer) detective Blanc, visually disoriented and embarrassed for almost the entire film (Craig is phenomenal in this role, totally opposite to his Bond); the sexist speeches of Bautista’s influencer, the ditzy air of Hudson’s model, the inadequacy of Odom Jr.’s scientist or the grammatical errors of Norton’s “genius” are significant.
Perhaps, compared to its predecessor, in Glass Onion: Knives Out the pleasure of “perfect fit” is lost since – as the Beatles also suggest – the resolution of the mystery is immediately visible, however fascinating it is peel the onion layer by layer (“He’s stupid enough to be brilliant”; “No, he’s just stupid”). Not why Rian Johnson hasn’t been able to create another clever thriller or to keep the suspense alive, but because the clues are already all scattered in its first part (the longer, verbose, cognitive one) and the ending is not so powerful in terms of effect surprise: the progress of the film is in fact much more linear than expected. For this reason it is advisable to watch the film with already educated eyes, to notice how the director anticipated the final act or how he tried to distract us from the important elements. Certainly, the second viewing will justify the baroque aesthetics and the exaggeration with which Johnson piles up cameos, winks, quotations, special effects, costumes, dreamy sets (when instead Murder by Death: Knives Out was cleverly “squeezed” in the typical Cluedo mansion).
Glass Onion: Knives Out it is certainly not the crime film capable of transforming the strict rules of the genre, however much it tries to be something other than the distant or near past (citing it to the obsessed, as post-postmodernity requires). And, consequently, Rian Johnson he is not to be considered a «disruptor» (thus Miles Bron defines himself), at most a nerd capable of dressing the archetype with contemporary masks (he had also tried with the beautiful Star Wars: The Last Jedi); just think of the change of tone in the middle of the film, when a Hitchcockian enters the scene woman who lived twice (or a double, as in the case of McCartney). Therefore what emerges are a great cunning and a great writing ability, accompanied in any case by a precise, attentive, playful, sparkling direction. This is enough for a work that has the task of dispassionately entertaining, of making people laugh at a world that practically no one has access to… unless one is so stupid as to be brilliant.