I am behind in my recent movie reviews because of heavy holiday traveling, catching up on studio screeners, and keeping up with my day job. I’ve been meaning to file some more serious pieces about The Whale, Dead For a Dollar, Father Stu, and a handful of prospective Oscar-nominated films, but that will have to wait for now until I’m back in Nashville from the Mere Anglicanism conference in South Carolina. Thankfully, I did catch the premiere of Netflix’s newest sequel to the Knives Out franchise and had some strong thoughts on it!
I get the sense from the Knives Out movies that Rian Johnson really believes his own hype. It’s maybe a natural reaction after half the internet spent five years going after him for Star Wars: The Last Jedi, but it is clear that his last two films are moderate exercises in puffery. He knows he’s a talented writer and he wants to show off what he is capable of to keep his star hoisted high and remind his critics that he is unstoppable.
He’s also firmly established himself as a director whose core creative drive is progressive advocacy. If The Last Jedi was a film about rich people losing a war against the poor and oppressed peoples of the galaxy, his new films have only added new layers to this by letting an illegal immigrant righteously upend the lives of stupid white rich people in the first Knives Out.
Johnson is making it clear that he enjoys watching the rich have their stuff broken, their hypocrisies aired, and their bigotries flaunted for the world to see. Whether it is wise for a multi-millionaire artist to make movies about the evils of the rich is a question best left to others, when the revolution commences.
Maybe it is thus ironic that his newest film Glass Onion: A Knives Out story is a film about disrupters—about the people who think they can break the system and what that truly means.
The film picks up after the first film sometime during the COVID-19 pandemic. Benoit Leblanc has been invited to a private island owned by an eccentric billionaire tech genius who wants to host a murder mystery party with his fellow disrupters—a men’s rights activist, a scientist, the Democrat governor of Connecticut, and a fashion designer infamous for a past blackface incident. When one of them winds up dead, Leblanc is quick to try and figure out what happened and uncover a wider mystery.
If the film is clear about anything, it is that its “disruptor” characters are not really disrupters—they’re idiots. They’re all shallow, mean-spirited, and don’t think ahead. The catalyst of the film is that Edward Norton’s Miles Bron—a strangely similar figure to tech mogul Elon Musk, but whom Johnson has denied is a direct influence—has discovered a new clean energy source made from ocean water, but it is unstable and everyone on the island has the motive to want him to no go ahead with revealing it.
The movie is very clearly skeptical about the nature of systems, of the power of influencers and so-called geniuses, and their power to manipulate the world to their own ends—especially when those powers reveal themselves to be incompetent.
It’s clear that Rian Johnson is clearly someone who cares about real-life issues like climate change, COVID-19, immigration, income inequality, and injustice. He also clearly hates the people who are currently in a position to do anything about it, and by the end of the film, his cynicism for the world reaches a peak of Joker-esc nihilism that takes glee on watching the world, or at least the rich part, burn. It strikes a note of anti-classicism that would make the recent climate activists vandalizing European paintings blush. Evidently, the only way Johnson sees to disrupt the film is to subvert it, destroy its treasures, and hurt the people that hurt us.