Very few dark attributes of mankind can be traced back to their unfortunate origins. One can’t really be expected to put their finger on the exact time human beings began feeling jealousy, greed, hunger for power, or even something as familiar as the urge to be remembered. But even in the daunting confusion of it all, one truth remains steadfast. Jealousy, greed, desperate ambition, and passion for fame have not only evolved with the creatures they haunt but also found a way to merge together into one colossal demon that afflicts those who fall prey to its charms. Rian Johnson has offered up his murder mystery, “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” to hunt down and unmask that very demon that is ever relevant in the fast world that prioritizes glamor over essence. “Glass Onion” doesn’t waste time spoon-feeding its audience with any explanation as to why greed makes its festering web in some people’s hearts. We hardly need an explanation as the inhabitants of the planet that currently runs–as it has for a long time–on a coked-up rush of instant and hollow success. But is it the easy achievability of random bursts of success that truly empowers greed? Or is the disease allowed to spread because of our own foibles, which make us the clapping children in a clown show of unworthy fame?
In this day and age, success, both monetary and social, hardly cares about substance. A person’s or a brand’s rise can be as ridiculously random as the hype around them. And when ambition and greed drive a person who doesn’t really have anything meaningful or compelling to offer, the hollowness exhibits itself through their preposterous ego and the tasteless manifestations of wealth. The primary protagonist of “Glass Onion,” tech billionaire Miles Bron, is the spitting image of a greed-infected ego. All we hear are his narcissistic monologues about what he has achieved. But what has he really done to earn the amount of influence and money that he now holds? Every demonstration of his offbeat style of living comes as a chucklesome reminder that none of that came out of his own mind. The intricate puzzles that were sent to the invitees were undoubtedly intriguing. But we know that he paid someone to design it.
Even the murder mystery game that took Benoit Blanc a second to solve did not come from Bron’s brain. His saddest, and frankly, tackiest, display of wealth was the Glass Onion itself. What must’ve cost him a fortune was hardly a work of art. The image that Bron wanted to create of himself was desperately clinging to the list of things he thought he needed to check off. He wore Zuckerberg-esque clothes that, at least on the “motivational” social media memes, come off as a sign of “real success.” But how he really saw himself came out starkly in the insecure Wolverine-like painting of himself that he hung on his wall. Excessive grandeur is, in essence, an expression of veiled self-doubt. And self-doubt mixed with rabid ambition is a recipe for an explosive disaster (pun intended). While I’m not taking anything away from the dangerous repercussions of greed for wealth, when the greed for fame is empowered by bottomless wealth, it poses the kind of threat that can cause worldwide disasters. If Bron hadn’t been stopped, his hydrogen fuel would have wrecked millions of lives on its path.
Granted, fame and success don’t come easy. But in a world that scarcely has its bar high enough to reject the posers, one hardly has to really work hard for arbitrary achievements. What “Glass Onion” predominantly communicates is the sad state of mankind, which allows unchecked greed and ambition to camouflage a lack of self-awareness, the non-existence of any talent whatsoever, and blatant mediocrity. What enables mediocrity to flourish is our hunger for constant stimulation. Dominated by the endless need for distractions (which we can hardly be blamed for), we give attention to just about anything. And like Duke’s mind-numbingly stupid and sexist vlogs, which were all the rage, awful content makes money every day, not only because it caters to a specific problematic demographic but also because even “hate-watching” is a kind of attention that works in its favor.
Duke’s girlfriend Whiskey is the prime example of how greed for popularity and making a name can make even a sensible person trash their own values and morals. At least Birdie has always been obtuse enough to pass off as a dumb celebrity who rose as fast as she fell. But the danger of ignorant celebrities’ influence is just as formidable as the dangers posed by intentional evil. Relevance was all Birdie was greedy for. She neither had the emotional ability nor the intellectual capacity to care about what she wrecked on her path. How scary is it that a celebrity with a fashion line doesn’t even know what a sweatshop is? And most importantly, how scary is it that even though Birdie is fictional (thank heavens), we have countless celebrities and influencers who are just as dense? Greed enables greed. But it isn’t quite as simple as supply and demand. While we crave and consume vapid entertainment, the demand is intricately and shrewdly created by the people who gain from greed, taking over the lives of consumers and producers. We are all but cogs in the machine that runs on extortion and abundant manipulation.
What’s truly intriguing about Johnson’s writing of Miles Bron is that he is, in a sense, a character who will be perceived differently by different people. And there lies the larger commentary on what really makes a person like Bron reach the heights he has managed to reach. Although he is driven by the greed for making a lasting mark on society, his drive is still something that will resonate with the enablers of vainglorious ambition. If we can still find people celebrating the likes of Elon Musk, it wouldn’t be too hard to find someone who sees Bron’s lunacy as real genius. It wasn’t just money that backed Bron’s dangerous impulses; the people who recognized the dangers of them but still chose to validate them for their own gain were perhaps even more responsible for his frightening eccentricities being sped up. Lionel and Claire’s greed overpowered their desire to do the right thing. If it wasn’t for Helen going out of her way to be a thorn in Bron’s destructive path, Lionel and Claire’s approval would have created an even longer chain of chaos that could have affected the entire world. Helen was the film’s way of recognizing the efforts of the selfless heroes who stop the demons of greed to the best of their abilities.