March 2023


Deathstyles of the Rich and Famous

Glass Onion, The Menu

Miles David Moore


Agatha Christie, not surprisingly, created the template.  And Then There Were None, published in 1939, trapped ten despicable people on an island off the coast of Devon.  As they are killed off one by one, they frantically try to determine who among them is the murderer. 

Because there are still millions of people unfamiliar with And Then There Were None  and its many breathtaking plot twists, I will not describe them further.  It's not that the source is obscure.  And Then There Were None has sold more than 100 million copies, making it the most successful mystery novel in history.  There have been dozens of stage, screen, radio, and television adaptations of the story, the latest of which—starring Charles Dance, Miranda Richardson, and Aidan Turner—was broadcast in 2015.  Christie's wicked little story has dared countless writers and filmmakers over the decades to match or exceed her achievement.  The two latest to try, Rian Johnson and Mark Mylod, even go so far as to set their movies on islands.  While they don't quite succeed in beating Christie, their movies—Glass Onion and The Menu—are devilishly clever and a helluva lot of fun.  Adding exponentially to the fun are the stilettos Johnson and Mylod slip between the shoulder blades of the rich and self-satisfied.

Glass Onion, written and directed by Johnson, is subtitled "A Knives Out Mystery," and it presents the further adventures of Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), the gentlemanly Southern detective introduced in Knives Out.  Knives Out was Johnson's real commercial breakthrough—proof that he could create from scratch a crowd-pleasing blockbuster.  Glass Onion doubles down on the abundant wit and cleverness Johnson demonstrated in Knives Out, while simultaneously upping the ante on Johnson's disdain for those whose net worth exceeds their worthiness.

The beginning of Glass Onion has Miles Bron (Edward Norton), billionaire co-founder of technology giant Alpha, send puzzle boxes to friends including Alpha chief scientist Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.), Connecticut Gov. Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn), supermodel turned fashion designer Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson), and "men's rights" YouTube pundit Duke Cody (Dave Bautista).  With varying degrees of skill, they solve the puzzle boxes to find invitations to a long weekend on Bron's private island in the Aegean.  It will be a mystery-themed weekend, the goal of which will be to solve Bron's "murder."


The four arrive on the island to find two surprises.  The first is Blanc, whom none including Bron has met before.  Blanc insists he received an invitation, but Bron denies sending him one.  The second is Cassandra "Andi" Brand (Janelle Monae), Bron's former business partner, whom Bron dumped from the company with the assistance of Lionel, Claire, Birdie and Duke.  Bron did send her an invitation, but neither he nor the others expected her to accept.  

As Blanc quickly discovers, all the guests except himself have good reason to want Bron dead.  He also senses that something isn't quite right about Bron, starting with his frequent malaprops (i.e. "predefinite" for "pre -eminent"). 

From there, it is best to let viewers discover the surprises of Glass Onion for themselves.  Those surprises come thick and fast, involving such disparate elements as an experimental hydrogen-based fuel, a paper napkin, a food allergy, and the Mona Lisa.  Steve Yedlin, Johnson's usual photographer, captures the beauty of the Greek islands and the decadence of Bron's lifestyle with equal assurance.  He also does justice to Johnson's incendiary finale, which combines literal pyrotechnics with a deeply satisfying act of retribution.  Meanwhile, if you see similarities between Bron and certain real-life billionaires, I'm sure Johnson won't mind.

The ensemble cast could not be more delightful, and includes many cameos which have already been much discussed in Glass Onion's reviews and publicity.  I will mention only two: Stephen Sondheim and Angela Lansbury, in their last film appearances, as two of Blanc's fellow online gamers.  (They chide him for his lack of skill.)  Gamesmanship is the key to Glass Onion, even more than for Knives Out.  It's no surprise that Johnson, a great believer in music as a plot device, plays over the final credits the Beatles' "Glass Onion," which gently mocks Beatles fans who found hidden meanings in John and Paul's lyrics.  The song is key to understanding the film's central metaphor, as Blanc lays it out: a glass onion seems to have multiple layers of complications, but in the end the true meaning was always in plain sight.

The comedy is much darker in The Menu, which makes perfect sense when you realize that the credits of director Mylod and screenwriters Seth Reiss and Will Tracy include Succession, Entourage, The Onion, and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.  All of these programs specialize in the skewering of human vanity, brutality and greed, especially as practiced by those whom fate has given far more wealth than they deserve.

According to the Internet Movie Database, Tracy got the idea for The Menu after dining with his new bride in an island restaurant off the coast of Norway.  Tracy also thought of Noma, the experimental epicurean restaurant in Copenhagen that recently announced its closure.  "Noma and the Fizzle of Too-Fine Dining," a Jan. 10, 2023 New York Times article by Frank Bruni, helps us understand the malaise The Menu satirizes.  About Noma and similar high-end restaurants, Bruni asks, "Are they about so many things beyond the fundamentals of dining—things like ingenuity, philosophy, vanity, eccentricity—that they've ceased to be restaurants in any conventional and sustainable sense?"


The Menu has a similar insight at its core and takes it to its logical, if
bloody, extreme. The film begins with Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) and
Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), a young couple waiting for the boat to take
them to Hawthorn, the exclusive island restaurant run by celebrity chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes). Margot lights a cigarette, to Tyler's disgust; he lectures her about the tobacco killing her taste buds. Their fellow diners board the boat with them, including vindictive food critic Lillian Bloom (Janet McTeer); smug millionaires Richard and Anne Leibrandt
(Reed Birney, Judith Light); and fading movie star George Diaz (John Leguizamo) .

The diners arrive on the island, greeted by maître d' Elsa (Hong Chau).  If Elsa is disconcerted that Margot's name is not on the guest list, Margot is appalled by the guided tour of the property.  Elsa speaks proudly of the island-grown vegetables and island-cured meats, but what Margot notices is the robotic regimentation of the staff—more like brainwashed North Korean prisoners than restaurant workers.

Margot's opinion of Hawthorn is not improved by Julian's greeting of the guests.  He makes a speech of welcome that is anything but welcoming; he exhorts them not to eat, but to taste.  Margot finds this absurd, but Tyler, Julian's total fanboy, is enthralled.  Once again lecturing Margot, he says that musicians, athletes, painters are nothing compared with chefs, who deal with the basic materials of life.  "And death!" he adds with a flourish.

Julian is famous for his themed menus, the subjects of which are not apparent until the meal is over.  He gives the guests a mini-lecture before each course, each successively more dire than the last.  By the third course, the diners have a clue that they aren't going to like the theme of this dinner—except, again, for Tyler.  When the fourth course arrives…

Julian, meanwhile, is agitated by Margot; her very presence is ruining his theme. "Who are you?" he asks her.  Before long, she shows him.


The Menu is a mordant satire that uses Julian's restaurant as a metaphor for the eternal malaise engendered by wealth and snobbery.  Margot denounces Julian toward the end, noting that he's forgotten the purpose of a restaurant—to feed people.  "You cook with obsession, but not with love!" she declares, indicting his staff and his customers along with him.   In his loveless obsession, Julian has created a Jonestown-style cult. He is aided and abetted by his workers, who have become automatons in his service, and his customers, who sheepishly obey his whims even as they condescend to him.  It is a vicious circle that has repeated itself in countless ways and in countless places throughout recorded history.  It takes a person outside the cult to reveal it for what it is. 

The cast is superb, especially the three leads.  Fiennes' Julian exudes a charismatic, twinkling menace—a cross between Lord Voldemort and The Grand Budapest Hotel's Gustave H.  As Tyler, Hoult is convincing as a weaselly know-it-all who knows more about Julian's plans than he lets on, and whom Julian singles out for humiliation.  Anya Taylor-Joy, who gets more impressive with each new role, is the standout as Margot, the movie's voice of reason.  How her powers of reasoning affect the film's ending is for you to discover.


Share This Page

View readers' comments in Letters to the Editor

Miles David Moore is a retired Washington, D.C. reporter for Crain Communications, the author of three books of poetry and Scene4's Film Critic. For more of his reviews and articles, check the Archives.

©2023 Miles David Moore
©2023 Publication Scene4 Magazine



For a complete index of all
reviews by Miles David Moore

Click Here



March 2023

  Sections~Cover · This Issue · inFocus · inView · inSight · Perspectives · Special Issues
  Columns~Adler · Alenier · Bettencourt · Jones · Luce · Marcott · Walsh 
  Information~Masthead · Your Support · Prior Issues · Submissions · Archives · Books
  Connections~Contact Us · Comments · Subscribe · Advertising · Privacy · Terms · Letters

|  Search Issue | Search Archives | Share Page |

Scene4 (ISSN 1932-3603), published monthly by Scene4 Magazine
of Arts and Culture. Copyright © 2000-2023 Aviar-Dka Ltd – Aviar Media Llc.

sc4cover-archives-picSubscribe to our mail list for news and a monthly update of each new issue. It's Free!


 Email Address

        Please see our Privacy Policy regarding the security of your information.

Thai Airways at Scene4 Magazine