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Glass Onion, the Movie: Thoughts

I saw “Glass Onion” on Netflix last night, because it was Christmas and that’s naturally the right time to watch a Christmas movie.

I laughed, I cried, I wrote bad checks, and it made me think a little bit.

It’s a good movie. I enjoyed “Knives Out,” and while the tone of this movie was different, I neither expected nor wanted it to be the same movie as “Knives Out.”

If you’re allergic to spoilers, this is a good time to stop reading. Turn back! Click away!

Click away now!

I don’t wish to delude you
I always thought I knew you
Knew me well enough to know my heart
I’m likely to describe you
Things you didn’t want to know
And I’m warning so I’ve done my part

The neat thing about poetry is that it’s my song set to music in your head, so I hope you enjoyed that snazzy little elegant tune, but if you’re still here, that means you’ve been sufficiently warned that I’m likely to spoil the movie for you.

I’m also going to assume you’ve watched it. If you haven’t, but you’re willing to endure spoilers anyway, well, that’s fine. But go watch the movie. You’ll enjoy it, I think.

I assumed I knew who it was almost as soon as the setup was done. The movie has two “mysteries,” one of which was solved almost immediately by the pseudo-protagonist (the detective), and the best part of that was that I did not anticipate the solution of the first in such fashion. (Actually, at the start of the movie, I expected the billionaire to be dead on arrival at the island, and when he was alive and well, I was thinking “… okay, this is going to be a story of a suicide,” and it wasn’t. Not in the sense I thought, at least.)

However, that assumption played out. It was not played out like I thought it would be: I expected a labyrinthine morass of detail and observation, careful unpacking and mental gymastics.

Instead, Alexander’s approach of cutting the Gordian Knot with a sword would be a better explanation of the mystery. It was unexpected and enjoyable, really, except for a few minor aspects.

The problem with “Glass Onion” is it’s timing, more than anything else. I have seen a number of factoids about “Glass Onion” that say that the billionaire is based on Elon Musk, a”genius” who “relies on others to do the actual work.”

Combine that with my feed on Mastodon (@joseph@hwfo.online if you’re interested) having a significant number of posts all trying to drag Musk through the mud for his management of Twitter, including distrust of everything he’s ever done, ever, and it makes me wonder.

I’ve said here (and on the Fediverse, and on Twitter itself) that I don’t think Musk is managing the Twitter acquisition well. However, I think there’s a method being employed that mitigates some of the criticism. I still think he’s managing it poorly, but I think there’s more to the story than we’re seeing from the outside.

What’s more, his acquisition of Twitter is one failure, if it fails. Possibly a major failure, certainly not the only failure, but Musk has PayPal; I would classify that as “a success.” It may not be perfect, but it’s successful. Further, Musk has Tesla, which I would also classify as “a success,” even if it’s ongoing and the metric for success is malleable; if Tesla has accomplished nothing else it’s done a lot to popularize electric vehicles and shown that they can be commercially and existentially viable. Further, Musk has SpaceX, which is probably the preeminent private space-faring company; there are others, to be sure, but people think of SpaceX first.

Again, the metrics for success of all three of these are malleable, but I think it’s safe to say that PayPal, SpaceX, and Tesla have all been massive successes, and I’d bet that most of the people whining so acidically about Musk on the Fediverse today were singing his praises about SpaceX and Tesla a year ago.

So my suspicion is that a lot of them have revised their definition of success to include something like “I have to approve of the owner for the business to be considered a success, and I have decided I don’t like Musk any more, so they were all massive failures. He’s done nothing but fail!

You’ll pardon me for not quite signing on for that particular line of thought, I hope. If you don’t, I probably won’t notice, and if I do notice, I probably won’t care unless you have better data than I do, and you show me in a way that I can understand.

So the movie bags on “Elon Musk” – note quotes – rather dedicatedly, based on raw timing. My thought is that the timing was merely unfortunate, and that the director/producer/whoever created it was actually trying to demean the “billionaire class” as being less effective per dollar than most people are – a claim that would probably be accurate, honestly.

But that doesn’t actually assert that such people are ineffective; it just says that they’re less effective per dollar, and that’s unrealistic as a measure. If it weren’t unrealistic, a poor person of relatively poor ethics – i.e., he steals only enough to keep his family alive, and no more – is a giant among us regular people, because his “effectiveness per dollar” might skyrocket. He has no money, but he’s very effective at his purpose – keeping his family alive – and thus his “ratio” would be fantastic, whereas a billionaire might waste his money on a yacht, which has little bearing on his “effectiveness.”

The movie also suggests that the CEO, the imaginer, deserves little credit for what his companies do. Bron – the CEO here – tends to send connected ideas over fax (yes, fax!) to his underlings, and expects them to make something out of them. That’s his “genius,” and it so happens that some of his ideas expressed this way actually had merit, even though he didn’t communicate the actual ideas, just sparks that turned into ideas (and in at least one case, those sparks turned into explosions.)

Bron is a moron, and I think the movie represents that well, but it also implies gently that a lot of tech geniuses are morons in the same way, and I’m thinking that might be a non sequitur. A lot of movies, classic ones, had the same kind of germination, where someone said something like “What if we … hmm, pocahontas + space,” and WHOA, WE CREATED AVATAR. (Did I just damn James Cameron? It wasn’t intentional.)

So: I enjoyed Glass Onion, and I think people who enjoy mysteries should watch it. My only criticism is when it was released, which corresponds a little conveniently to a cultural moment around Elon Musk, and that may have been intentional; I don’t know. (It’s not a new trope, after all, but … still.)


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