Netflix’s Glass Onion reached number 1 on the streaming service over the holiday weekend, receiving 82.1 million hours worth of streams over three days.
Glass Onion is a sequel to 2019’s Knives Out. Both films revolve around detective Benoit Blanc as he solves intriguing murder cases. In this latest film, billionaire tech mogul Miles Bron invites a select number of his influential friends and the detective for a weekend vacation at his private island. Activities for the group include a theatrical murder mystery game.
However, as the guests’ complex relationships with Bron rise to the surface, as well as their hostility toward one another, the opening night takes a dangerously real turn. And when an actual murder eventually arises, the film shifts back and forth chronologically as Blanc comes to understand his presence on the island and the identity of the killer.
Through this movie and its predecessor, director Rian Johnson has been praised for reinvigorating the mystery genre with its refreshing twists on classic tropes. These twists are what bring thematic weight to Glass Onion.
A moral play for a postmodern audience
Glass Onion is not a Christian movie.
It’s rated PG-13 for strong language, some violence, sexual material, and drug content. Profanity and crude phrases are peppered throughout. A suggestive scene is shown briefly and later revisited. The actual murders in the movie, while tame, may nevertheless be shocking. Therefore, viewer discretion is advised.
That said, Glass Onion turns postmodern views such as moral ambiguity and the absence of truth on their heads and instead becomes a movie that contrasts good and evil with startling clarity.
Note: Plot spoilers will follow.
The problem with postmodernism
The Knives Out movies, like many modern mystery movies, are examples of postmodern art.
Postmodernism is an ideological stance originating from the mid-twentieth century. Among its key principles is an abandonment of any sense of overarching narrative in exchange for many fractured narratives, where the ambiguity of meaning is more present than actual meaning.
As a postmodern conception of reality began to diffuse into art, the detective genre of cinema also saw a shift in its storytelling, where solutions to cases became less concrete, as did the reliability of the narrator’s conveyance of the events.
Scottie Ferguson’s obsession with an elusive woman in Hitchcock’s Vertigo is only fully understood once the audience glimpses her side of the story, which remains unknown to Ferguson until the film’s climax. Even the definition of humanity would be called into question two decades later with Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, as Rick Deckard hunts down rogue androids possessing qualities “more human than human.” This leads the audience to wonder whether or not Deckard himself is an android, though the film leaves the question open-ended.
Now, although postmodernist theory holds meritable qualities, such as a willingness to consider all of the different angles of a matter, it presents an outlook on life that is opposed to Christian thought.
If ultimate truth is to be regarded with skepticism, then there can be no basis for lasting meaning. In truth’s absence, we find a type of cynicism, a mistrust toward everything, coated over by a winking sense of irony. Furthermore, morality itself is compromised since it cannot be established upon any absolute foundation.
Such a mindset proves to be rocky soil for Christianity, which declares the word of God as the source of all truth (John 1:1–5, 14) and is subject to following a clearly defined moral path.
However, we see postmodernism’s imprint all over popular entertainment, where the values we hold are challenged, if not outright rejected. The resulting feeling that we get from this trend is that there is little left in the world for us to hope in.
Glass Onion subverts postmodernism
This brings us back to Glass Onion.
The film plays with our perception of the events that unfold before our eyes, turning the narrative structure on its head so that we revisit particular scenes from new angles. This is done with the intent of making us question what we think we know about the mystery and who is responsible.
Although this twisting of plot structure is a characteristic of postmodern art, the movie frees itself from the trap of looking inward too much and becoming cynical. Instead, Glass Onion is earnest, not looking to deconstruct the detective story so much as take it down new paths.
It is as if Rian Johnson intentionally plays with his story’s structure, and our expectations for it, because he wishes to craft an experience that’s fun, inviting the audience to participate with Blanc in solving the movie’s core mystery.
What makes the spirit of the movie fun and not frustrating is the fact that Glass Onion is deeply concerned with the truth.
A culturally prescient film
Note: If you’ve yet to watch the movie, skip this section.
The visual metaphor of the glass onion speaks to the film’s philosophy: it is an object that, for all of its apparent complexity, bares its center plain and simple to the outside.
The climax reveals that Bron is the murderer. Earlier in the film, Blanc writes off Bron as a suspect, believing that a man with such high aspirations and influence would never do something as inane as directly incriminate himself in a murder.
The movie’s “twist” is that Bron’s delusions of grandeur are large enough that he would do something so reckless. In other words, for all of the red herrings and teases the movie throws at the audience, the truth is much clearer and more obvious than we would think: Bron murdered his victims simply to clear his name and hold onto his power.
Following a year like 2022, where numerous high-profile individuals faced public scrutiny for their personal and professional missteps, the revelation of Bron’s culpability brings a sense of catharsis to the film, one that feels oddly prescient when considering that the screenplay was written in 2020.
Embedded biblical truths
Glass Onion’s prescience is not purely coincidental.
Perhaps unknowingly to the film’s creators, it speaks to the biblical fact that God cares about the truth and will bring it to bear: “The end of the matter; all has been heard. . . . For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13–14).
If we listen to current trends of storytelling in film and television, we are led to believe that the wicked prosper unpunished while the good are persecuted.
A biblical worldview may share this view, but it does not stop there. It calls us to hope: “The Lᴏʀᴅ works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed” (Psalm 103:6). And “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). The Lord promises for his qualities to be made manifest and for wickedness to fall away, and he accomplishes this in his perfect time.
For all of its shocks and surprises, Glass Onion does more than show that the truth is out there, waiting to be found; it also suggests that the truth has the power to bring wickedness to its knees and for goodness to be championed. This is a distant echo of the great truth Christ proclaimed to his followers: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).
What art have you experienced recently that has pointed you back to biblical truth, however unexpected that journey may have been?