This article contains spoilers for Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
With Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery Rian Johnson has cemented himself as a modern master of the whodunnit. Both this and the opening installment play a perfect game of subverting audience expectations of the well-worn genre, with Knives Out apparently showing us the murder midway through the movie, and Glass Onion only revealing the characters’ true motivations in a lengthy flashback at around the same point.
Devising these plots must be incredibly complicated: both feature a large ensemble cast with competing motivations, there’s a lot of hidden information that’s only noticeable on a second viewing, and making everything hang together is a Herculean writing task. In an interview with The Wrap, Johnson explained how he sets out on his ambitious undertakings.
“Well it’s not like I come up with a group of suspects and then decide which one is the killer and build backwards from there or something. In a way, when I start working on something, I’m playing chess with three pieces: I’m thinking about the victim, the protagonist, and the killer, basically, and I don’t even know who they’re going to be. But I know who the killer is because I know their dramatic place in it, and I know their relationship to the protagonist — not the detective, that’s outside of this — but the protagonist being Marta in the first one and Helen in this one.”
Working backwards like this is clearly a winning tactic, though Johnson underlines that he tries to zero down on what the core murder actually means:
“So it’s really thinking in terms of the bare bones structural, what is the essential gambit here that we’re trying to pull off with the murder? And then something kind of clicks in with it, I kind of figure out the shape of it before I even fill out the details of who the suspects are, and even necessarily what the details of the character of the killer is. So it starts very conceptually, I guess is what I’m saying. And then I kind of turn the focus knobs and kind of bring everything into focus, step by step, if that makes sense.”
The result are stories that confound even seasoned murder mystery fans, though the flipside is that some viewers don’t like having the wool pulled in front of their eyes to this degree. However, both Knives Out and Glass Onion are very rewarding on a second watch as you see the chess pieces quietly falling into place, and realize the true meaning behind innocuous lines of dialogue and tiny elements within a scene.
Johnson is now hard at work on the third Benoit Blanc mystery, which should land on Netflix in late 2024. After hitting back-to-back home runs audience expectations are going to be sky-high, though we’re confident that when Blanc returns for his third case, we won’t see those wild twists coming for a third time in a row.
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery is available to stream on Netflix.