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Sunday, January 29, 2023
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courtesy of John Wilson/Netflix

‘Glass Onion’ shows Rian Johnson is good at his job, Netflix isn’t

With a theatrical run limited to just one week and in under 700 theaters, Netflix prevented one of the year’s best films from the reception it deserved.

The sequel to “Knives Out” (2019) is another masterful mystery from writer and director Rian Johnson. Once again starring Daniel Craig as detective Benoit Blanc, “Glass Onion” delights with exciting mystery, charming characters and social commentary that is somehow both timely and timeless — vaulting the tale into instant classic territory.

But Netflix had it in theaters for only a week.

After spending $450 million for the rights to the film, not to mention the production and marketing costs, Netflix decided to undercut their bottom line by forgoing a full theatrical release. When I went to see the film  on its last night in theaters, there were four showings between 8:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. — all of which were full. Now, after getting glowing reviews all over Twitter for a week, everyone who missed out will have to wait until Dec. 23 for it to be added to Netflix.

The film is brilliant, but by nature of being a mystery, is rife with the potential for any details to be spoilers. To me, being told about the existence of a plot twist, for instance, is itself a spoiler even without specifics. I am glad I went into “Glass Onion” not knowing anything except that “Knives Out” was awesome and social media buzz said this was even better. 

My review is that “Glass Onion” is amazing and on par with the original in every way. While the characters are slightly less three-dimensional, this is made up for by a tone which is distinctly more humorous than the first without sacrificing the skillful storytelling and commentary that made “Knives Out” great. I saw it in theaters twice — which is something I never do — and might have even gone again if it were in theaters longer. That is all you need to know about “Glass Onion.” The remainder of this article is spoiler-free overthinking that you should return to after viewing unless you don’t mind, as a hypothetical example, being told if there is a plot twist.

You have been warned.

Like a magic trick, it’s easy for a mystery to blow you away when you don’t know what to expect. But when you go in knowing what’s coming — especially after it is explained in a mystery genre staple "big reveal” monologue — yet are still blown away on second watch, you have something special. Seeing “Glass Onion” twice, I can confirm this is something special. It does what shouldn’t work in a way that does: take place during the 2020 coronavirus lockdown, hide the detective’s knowledge from the audience and even boldly wave the answers in front of your face along the way.

The Spanish Flu, despite being a massive world event, famously lacks a footprint in art history. Scholars wondered why such a world-changing event would not have an impact on art to the same scale as the event itself, and the COVID-19 pandemic answered that question. Who in the 2020 lockdown tuned in to Hulu’s romantic situation comedy “Love in the Time of Corona”? It was one of few shows releasing new episodes during lockdown and even made the bold choice of taking place in the stay-at-home situation most of us found ourselves in. It wouldn’t be surprising if you don’t remember — it was canceled after four episodes. Something about living in a pandemic makes you not want to watch movies or shows about being in a pandemic. Nothing except Bo Burnham’s “Inside” came out of the pandemic with successful reception.

So seeing the words “May 13, 2020” appear across the screen at the opening of “Glass Onion” was like hopelessly watching Rian Johnson walk past a sign reading “Caution: thin ice.” The rest of the movie was like him doing triple axels to taunt whomever had the audacity to question his prowess — the worst part being that it’s impossible to be upset because he’s simply incredible. What Rian Johnson does that only Bo Burnham had done before was to point and laugh at the awful situation rather than attempt to find the bright side of it. We all know it was weird that we — as a society — went through a sourdough phase.

Mysteries are fun when we as the audience are playing the game too. Usually this is done by giving us the information as the detective receives it. A confident storyteller may even give us information the detective doesn’t have to give us the illusion of having it figured out. Then the grand reveal, in a good mystery, is that we were utterly clueless despite having a fighting chance. But imagine the opposite; what if the detective knew something that we didn’t? Would that not feel cheap? 

It would be impossible for the mystery to be fun if the detective reveals they knew something important all along that the audience didn’t. Well, Rian Johnson doesn’t care; instead, he does a triple salchow into a quintuple loop then a double backflip with a homerun because none of it makes sense but it’s incredible and you’re going to enjoy it.

Meanwhile, he’s calling his shot the whole time. He named his figure skating routine “I am going to hit a homerun in this figure skating routine,” and it’s a massive earth-shattering reveal when he does. It’s right in front of your face, then he tells you it was right in front of your face, then you watch it again and sure enough it’s the best magic trick ever.

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I hate Rian Johnson. He is an extraordinary filmmaker and I hope he keeps getting blank checks to write movies about how awful rich people are.

I didn’t even mention how amazing the cast is. Edward Norton is spectacular, Kathryn Hahn is phenomenal as the one character she always plays and Janelle Monáe smashes everything – it’s unfair how talented she is.

“Glass Onion” rocks and reminds us that our jurisdiction does not end with the truth but with justice. Watch it in comfy pajamas when Netflix releases it on Dec 23.

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Jeffrey Brown

Jeffrey Brown is an Arts Editor for the Daily Cardinal and also writes for the Beet occasionally. He is a senior majoring in Sociology with a certificate in African-American Studies.

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