Warning: Spoilers for the upcoming “Glass Onion: The Mystery of Removing a Knife”. If you don’t want to know who died and who the murderer is, don’t read.
It’s a movie with layers right there in the title, then clearly stated throughout the movie: “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery.” Layers of writer-director Rian Johnson and her cast somehow manage to reveal and hide in equal measure, while revealing surprise after surprise.
In the film, tech billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton) invites a group of old friends to his private Greek island for a weekend murder mystery party. There are unexpected faces among their guests, played by Kate Hudson, Kathryn Hahn, Dave Bautista, Leslie Odom Jr., Jessica Henwick and Madelyn Cline. One is world-renowned detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig reprising his role in “Knives Out”); the other is Andi Brand (Janelle Monáe), a former partner who recently lost a contentious case against Bron.
One of the most creative and entertaining aspects of the movie is the way in which “Glass Onion” reveals that it is much more than a detective novel. He also enjoys the question of who to kill. “It’s not a mystery that will hold audiences,” Johnson explained in an interview earlier this fall. “The mystery is in the set dressing, in a way, and the truth is, the audience will experience this and the story as a movie sitting in their seats, and that’s how you have to put everything in motion. This is how the machine is actually supposed to work.
“And so I think about the sequences and what drives it forward, and the mystery that leads through,” Johnson said. “But the idea that these films or any impersonation is actually a puzzle that the audience can solve is a complete illusion. The truth is, these are roller coasters, or the best, and above all they are supposed to function as a fun time in the theatre. You should lean forward, not lean back and caress your chin, trying to understand.”
“Glass Onion,” which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and received just one week of unconventional theatrical release on Thanksgiving, is currently reaching the largest audience ever to be released on Netflix.
This is where spoilers come into play.
At first the mystery seems to revolve around one of Bron’s guests, Duke Cody (Bautista), who dies suddenly when he accidentally drinks pineapple juice to which he is severely allergic. However, it soon becomes clear that the woman the partygoers thought was their old friend Andi was actually his twin sister Helen, and had come to solve Andi’s recent murder, which has yet to be made public, with the help of master detective Blanc. As revelations pile up, we learn that Bron is the movie’s true villain: a greedy, not-so-clever robber baron whose uncontrolled ego and ambitions lead to his spectacular downfall. (Maybe this part sounds familiar.)
The fact that Monáe actually plays the two roles as Andi and Helen is revealed in the middle of the movie – and as Monáe explained in an interview this week, when she first read the script it was as much a surprise to the audience as it was to herself.
“I had no idea when I read it,” Monáe said, although she and Johnson had previously spoken to Johnson about the project via Zoom. “And so when I came back to the character and the energy he wanted me to play, I was very surprised.”
As for the difficulty of playing the two roles, Monáe said: “I used to think of them as two characters, Helen and Andi, but when talking to Rian I was actually playing three characters: I was playing Helen and Andi and I were playing. She was playing Helen by pretending to be Andi. Rian was the fourth. says even one. So I had to keep at least three to four different notebooks.”
Costume designer Jenny Eagan, who also worked on “Knives Out,” talked about outfitting Monaé as separate characters of Helen and Andi, with Helen playing Andi.
“There’s presenting yourself with ‘I’m fine’. I’m still fine’ and then we take a step back and think, ‘This is Helen pretending to be Andi, so maybe then you’ll get a little used to seeing Helen’s sister like that,’ said Eagan. “It might not be what Andi was wearing, but it probably belonged to Andi. I’m sure Helen went to her closet and got those clothes. And then we go to Helen. She’s a teacher, grieving and going on a fast trip, so she doesn’t have much to bring.
For Monáe, there was a simple way to tell the sisters apart.
“The difference between the two, Andi and Helen, is really all about the sound,” Monáe said. “[Andi] she is a very strong, successful woman who is in a room full of sharks and tech sisters every day. And there’s the kind of performance she has for what power looks like.
He has a voice that sounds like power. You didn’t know where he was from. And he always thought that keeping his Alabama accent would make people think he wasn’t smart or was from the country. He was very insecure about it. But her sister Helen, who stays with her voice from northern Alabama, is definitely smart. As you can see who he is throughout this movie, they’re both great on their own, but not one of them had to be assimilated to prove it.”
One of the film’s finest pranks is a flashback where Norton’s character wears a burgundy shirt under a black leather vest and has her long hair in a short ponytail. It is an imitation of an outfit worn by Tom Cruise as Frank TJ Mackey, the men’s rights motivational speaker in the 1999 Paul Thomas Anderson film “Magnolia.”
“Edward was so genius in the beginning that he never had an idea of his own in Miles Bron’s life, looking to everyone else for inspiration or exact copying,” Eagan said. “Imitation is his game. He assumes all kinds of people he takes as an example and can be. So exaggerated, so absurd: who does this man think he is?”
A long sequence played by the pool at Bron’s mansion is watched once before the audience learns the truth about Helen’s identity, and then rewatched as the perspective changes, with the performances played out differently.
“I didn’t quite understand when he asked us to do it in different ways,” Monáe said of Johnson’s direction. “I knew we had to do the flashbacks and the perspectives and all that, but when you do it alone and you don’t see the cut of the movie, you don’t know how it’s going to happen. ”
As of now, Monáe has watched the movie eight times and is still making discoveries.
“When you watch it and watch that first act, it’s all right there in front of your eyes,” Monáe said. “I’m like ‘Rian, you sneaky, sneaky kid. But he was supposed to kick you out. Spoiler alert… if you watch it a second or third time, you’ll see exactly when the killer got the gun and where the killer put the gun and the glass and all that stuff.
Monáe said, “It’s like you think you’re as smart as the person watching and you’re like, ‘How did I miss that?’ you say,” he said. “You want to replay it to make sure Rian isn’t playing tricks on you. He’s cheating and being honest at the same time.”
In addition to names such as Yo-Yo Ma, Serena Williams, Stephen Sondheim, Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, Natasha Lyonne and Angela Lansbury, Hugh Grant appears as the boarding partner of Benoit Blanc. In a brief moment of the movie, Helen arrives first at the door of Blanc’s apartment, and Grant is the answer. But when Monáe shot her side of the scene, she didn’t know it because Grant wasn’t there.
“It was a surprise to me too,” Monáe said. “So funny that we weren’t in the same place to shoot this, so basically Hugh was probably talking to a proxy and I was, I think, talking to Rian on the other side of the door.”
The Monáe finale described how when Helen was revealed to the group, Bron was revealed to be Andi’s murderer and “catartically” smashed all the glass figurines in Bron’s flamboyant living room before setting fire to his property after Helen. Still, the mayhem required meticulous choreography, she explained.
“I remember thinking about Bugs Bunny and the Joker, right now when Helen showed up to avenge her sister and had nothing to lose,” Monáe said. “I wanted to take people for a ride with him. She felt so good and it was so much fun. I always say that I feel like a theater kid, a big kid who makes movies with my theater kid, my theater friends and never wants to go home.
Since the movie premiered on Netflix and has been watched by a wider group of people, it has inspired some criticism from those who don’t mind its satirical critique of tech-bro culture’s “move fast and screw things up” ethos.
“As Nina Simone said, an artist’s job is to reflect time,” Monáe said. “And I think that’s what Rian does, just as she reflects her time when creating Agatha Christie mysteries, she reflects ours. And for me, and I think I can say that for Rian, we never want to talk about art. It’s great when people talk about it or say who they think this is for or make people angry or laugh. That’s what art is supposed to do, and I love it.”