Turns Out the Walrus Was Paul (Making Sense of Glass Onion)

Answering (most of) my own questions about Glass Onion

Still from Glass Onion in which Kate Hudson as Birdie Jay is wearing a useless mesh face mask

After I saw and loved Glass Onion, I had a lot of questions. Now that it’s more widely available on Netflix, and I’ve gotten the chance to watch it a second time — with subtitles, and without audience laughter obscuring much of the dialogue — I think I’ve got a better idea of the answers to most of them.

To manage expectations: I haven’t hit on any particularly deep insights or re-interpretations; I’m just better able to make sense of the basic plot.

I was glad to see that it still holds up on a second watch, although (and I hate to say it) it was indeed more entertaining watching it in a theater crowded full of an enthusiastic audience. I’m hoping that for future installments, Netflix will consider extending the theatrical run for another couple of weeks, if not indefinitely.

And this is all still major spoilers, so please watch it on Netflix and then come back!

My questions from the last post in reverse order, with what I am thinking are the answers now:

Why was Andi with Miles in the first place?

Benoit Blanc makes such a big deal about how Miles is a completely incompetent idiot, that my takeaway after the first viewing was that his entire persona was a sham. It sounded as if Andi was entirely responsible for the success of their company, and she’d been using him as little more than a figurehead.

Helen’s dialogue about the early days of the group (taken from Andi’s journal) make this clearer. Basically, Andi’s core talent was finding the talent in other people and bringing them together, and Miles’s was to help people realize their potential. Andi’s journal gives Miles credit for helping the others reach their first moderate successes (like Claire getting elected to local office, and Lionel breaking out of teaching and into research). It makes it sound more like their personalities and skill sets being well suited to each other, instead of Andi single-handedly running everything.

In other words: it’s not that Miles was completely useless, at least initially, but that his self-esteem far, far exceeded his actual talent.

Did Miles intend to kill Andi?

Yes. I’d been fixated on the act of drugging her drink, thinking that he just needed her out of the way long enough to find the envelope. But the act of putting her in a running car in a close garage (which was shown in an extended sequence, with each suspect doing it to illustrate how everyone had opportunity) was obviously premeditated.

When did Miles send the invitation to Andi?

It seems a little clearer now that he sent one to her along with everyone else’s. I’m thinking that the timeline was this:

  1. Some time after the court case ruled in his favor, Miles had the puzzle boxes made and sent to everyone in the group. He didn’t expect Andi to come, but sent the box as a reminder that he’d won, to twist the knife.
  2. Getting the box (and Miles’s implicit gloating) helped anger Andi enough to tear her place apart looking for the envelope with the napkin.
  3. Once she found the envelope, she sent the email to the rest of the group.
  4. Somebody (Lionel?) faxed Miles a copy of the email. Since he was already in New York, he drove to Andi’s house to try and get back the napkin and stop her from making it public.

Why didn’t Miles freak out more when Andi showed up on the island?

This is the part that I’m still not 100% clear on. The two possibilities as I see it are that 1) he assumed his attempt to kill Andi failed; or 2) he knew Andi had a twin sister and immediately knew that this was Helen. In either case, it’s not really so weird that he’d call Blanc aside privately, since a famous detective showing up unexpectedly after you’ve just attempted murder is an immediate threat. But we’ve seen that he was far too cocky to feel threatened by either Andi or Helen.

The first possibility seems the “cleanest.” Andi’s death had been kept out of the press, so he could’ve simply assumed that she survived, but she was still powerless to do anything about it. And Birdie says that Andi “told me you had a sister,” which leaves it open as to whether the others in the group knew about Andi’s twin sister.

My only problem with that version is that it means that Miles (an idiot) was still able to piece together a lot of information in just a few seconds, all without breaking his cool, and simultaneously devise and carry out a murder in front of a group of people, including a detective.

It already strains credulity a little bit that Duke was able to blackmail him so quickly and clearly in coded language, just by showing him a news alert. Granted, Miles already knew that Duke spotted him leaving Andi’s place (the whole “leaving Anderson Cooper’s” exchange), so they had a shared secret. But we’d already seen a couple of examples where Miles visibly lost his cool while under stress. I have a hard time believing he’d be able to keep it together all while getting blackmailed by Duke, and also discovering that the attempted murder was an actual murder and there was someone posing as the victim running around loose on the island.

(For that matter, it strains credulity that Duke would’ve been able to piece it all together so quickly and quietly, since he was already established at being even more dense than Miles. But that one is more understandable, I think, when you consider that Duke was 100% focused on how he could spin it to his advantage. All he cared about was whether he could use the murder to blackmail Miles, and probably didn’t care much in the moment that there was an imposter on the island).

Ultimately, of course, it doesn’t matter all that much. If the worst criticism I can make of the movie is that one moment threatened to break my suspension of disbelief, hours after the fact, then that would still make the movie near-flawless. Plus it was clear what tone the movie was going for as soon as it introduced the idea of identical twins in the first place, not to mention the unexplained breath-spray COVID vaccine. If the choice is between carefully doling out the details of the mystery to the characters vs the audience, obviously the correct choice is what makes for a better experience for the audience.

Speaking of that: watching Glass Onion a second time gave me even more respect for what a hugely complex and creative task it is to edit a movie. After my first viewing, I had the (minor) complaint that the end sequence seemed to drag on too long — Andi kept smashing glass sculptures over and over, instead of getting to the conclusion that we all knew was coming. Watching it a second time, it felt as if it were paced naturally. The purpose of the scene wasn’t just to further the plot, but to show Helen encouraging “the disruptors” to stop being such cowardly shitheads, and to actually start breaking things. It’s only because of the time dilation of watching a murder mystery the first time that the scene seemed to drag on.

Which makes me wonder how you can possibly nail the pacing on these moments when you’ve seen them for the tenth or hundredth time? I was already impressed with the structure of the movie’s screenplay, setting up moments that are re-contextualized as the story goes back in time with new information. But I hadn’t appreciated just how much of that relies on editing, getting the timing just right so that just enough information is revealed while still being completely conscious of how the shot “feels” in the moment. It requires going back, essentially unlearning what you know about the later parts of the movie, and getting into the mindset of the audience within each scene. It seems like perpetually under-appreciated work.

So Glass Onion is still a brilliant movie, cleverly constructed, perfectly performed, and relentlessly entertaining. I still don’t believe that the murder mystery was the point of it, if only because it’s still fun to watch even after you know whodunnit. I’d be interested to hear whether my observations were completely obvious, or whether there’s still something in there that ties it all together perfectly, but I was too dense to pick up on it.