- by Floyd Kermode
- The Guardian
- Issue #2038
For readers who are in a hurry to get to the more communist stuff in this communist paper, I’ll be brief. Glass Onion is an enjoyable camp whodunnit which succeeds as a murder mystery, and in making fun of Elon Musk, “Men’s Rights Activists,” silly celebrities, and influencer/celebrity/social media culture in general. The only people I know of who didn’t enjoy Glass Onion are people who have no idea what Men’s Rights Activism is (lucky them) or what influencers are; people who like their whodunnits served straight. For everyone else, it’s fun. For communists in a hurry, there’s a political point later in the review, see you there.
Daniel Craig, recently retired from being the grumpiest James Bond, is Benoit Blanc, apparently the world’s greatest detective despite having what may be the world’s worst Southern accent. He is lured to a privately owned island where Miles Bron (Edward Norton, having a ball being an obnoxious Muskalike billionaire) is having a solve-the-murder party. Bron has also invited Cody, a “Men’s Rights” activist who sells dubious muscle supplements and aphrodisiacs along with anti-feminist diatribes, Cody’s “arm-candy” girlfriend Whiskey, Birdie Jay a former supermodel who’s too dim to stop saying racial slurs, and Toussaint, a top scientist who works for Bron’s company. Birdie has a harassed assistant who tries in vain to stop her brainless bigotry from damaging her fashion design business. There’s also Janelle Monae as Andi, who came up with the idea for Bron’s company and then had it stolen from her. So far, so Agatha Christie, especially if you’ve heard of And Then There Were None, except that there’s also a mysterious slacker who lives on the island and doesn’t do much apart from get stoned and eat cereal in the middle of the day.
As a Christie fan of long standing, I love this last touch. I’ve seen umpteen versions of And Then There Were None, but none in which there’s some slob everyone does their best to ignore on the island.
The whodunnit itself is well-executed. There are red herrings aplenty, and clever flashbacks which show that scenes we’ve interpreted one way are in fact something different from another point of view. In classic style, everyone has a motive for at least one murder. It is theoretically possible for us to guess who did in fact do it. I’m rubbish at this sort of thing, but recognised quite a few of Agatha’s tricks being efficiently repurposed. Christie herself isn’t mentioned, but the idea of murder games runs through the movie. Blanc is playing “Among Us” an online murder mystery game when we first meet him. Bron has invited everyone to solve a murder, and people keep telling Blanc that he’d be really good at Clue (Cluedo for Australian/British viewers), much to his annoyance (“Ah’m not good at stupid things”).
A lot of fun is had with Bron demonstrating just how stupid and crass the extremely rich can be – he keeps getting simple words wrong, and buys and then discards the guitar on which Paul McCartney wrote Blackbird, and pays Phillip Glass to compose a one-note tone to mark the hour. The Men’s Rights guy is another easy target, complaining about the “boobification” of American men and explaining that evolution proves that men should run offices or something. If you’ve ever come across stuff, this is shooting fish in a barrel, assuming that the fish richly deserved it, and that you like shooting fish.
More interestingly, Glass Onion makes fun of “silver bullet” solutions to complex real world problems. Bron/Musk has a solution to climate change, characteristically one he didn’t invent but acts as though he has, but it’s badly researched, dangerous, and is being rushed into production at the price of safety to feed his ego. As Ketan Joshi has pointed out, billionaires like Musk, Gates and Australia’s Andrew Forrest do this kind of thing all the time, using their power to push simplistic solutions while derailing more complex society-wide solutions that don’t result in any one rich guy being anointed the saviour.
More portentously, Glass Onion is the main metaphor of the movie – something that seems complex with many layers, but is in fact easy to see through. The complex murder plot turns out to be very simple. This is the sort of thing that fictional detectives just love to say in denoument scenes, but I couldn’t help wondering if it isn’t a decent metaphor for the movie itself.
Glass Onion looks like a hip, whip-smart satire, but really it’s very comfort food on two levels. Whodunnits are comforting, as popular as crosswords or eating chips during a long train trip. The movie’s satire is comfort food for progressives, in the same way that the climate change denial satire Don’t Look Up was. Yes, Elon Musk is an appalling person, yes the whole “Men’s Rights” thing is garbage, and here’s a movie that tells us that. Both movies leave us with the impression that nothing really has to change as long as bad individuals aren’t in charge.
In Don’t Look Up, the main thing that could save the earth is political leaders not being corruptible imbeciles. All we have to do is put non-idiots in power and earth is saved! In Glass Onion, we are left in no doubt that the American legal system could stop narcissistic billionaires from misusing the insane amount of power that the American legal system has let them accumulate in the first place, if only it had the right evidence.
Comfort food is fun, fun is good, and seeing supposedly genius rich saviour types for what they are is good too. Check out Glass Onion, enjoy it, and then get on with fixing the society that makes it possible.