‘Glass Onion’ is about the lies we tell ourselves

Like its predecessor, the ‘Knives Out’ sequel revives the classic detective story to tackle contemporary issues.
Arts & Culture

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Directed by Rian Johnson (Netflix, 2022)

The years between 1920 and 1940 were an era of extreme income inequality, excessive consumption, economic upheaval, and rising totalitarian regimes. It was also the golden age of murder mysteries. A century later, in an eerily similar cultural moment, director Rian Johnson has made the genre newly relevant. Johnson’s Knives Out introduced gentleman detective Benoit Blanc, played by Daniel Craig with an improbable southern accent, campy relish, and multi-faceted charm. Blanc is back in Glass Onion, with a fresh array of vacuous rich people in a luxury location.

Glass Onion, like Knives Out, plays on traditional detective-story tropes while engaging contemporary issues, challenging the escapism of those who turn to classic murder mysteries to avoid the present. Perhaps we forget that golden-age detective writers were grappling with real geopolitical problems. One refreshingly real aspect of Glass Onion is its acknowledgment of the pandemic, something the entertainment industry seems largely to have ignored, possibly because, as in the story, the rich are sheltered from life’s grimness.

Glass Onion’s characters include a ditzy fashion designer, a men’s rights activist, a U.S. politician, and a tech billionaire, possibly inspired by Elon Musk. Deconstructing the pretensions of these characters, whose wealth and irresponsibility bind them together despite ideological differences, is as satisfying as solving the mystery. As in Knives Out, Blanc teams up with a courageous but vulnerable young woman. Janelle Monae, in her portrayal of the righteously vengeful sister of the murder victim, is cathartic to watch.

“It’s a dangerous thing to mistake speaking without thought for speaking the truth,” Blanc says. Ultimately, Glass Onion is a story about the difference between reality and delusion, between justice and power.


This article also appears in the April 2023 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 88, No. 4, page 38). Click here to subscribe to the magazine.

Image: Courtesy of Netflix