This post contains minor spoilers for Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery.

There couldn’t have been a more perfect time for Netflix to release Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery if they had dreamt an ideal scenario. The film is keenly dialed in to the present moment, presenting a timely commentary on the uber rich following Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter. Glass Onion opens on May 13th, 2020, a date far enough into the US pandemic that those of us who were in lockdown had built routines and gotten somewhat used to it, but not so far that pandemic fatigue was really setting in.

It would be easy for Glass Onion to not mention COVID at all, to set the movie in a world exactly like ours without the pandemic. But the point is that the film’s world is our world, with all its divisive politics—including the pandemic. The film does mostly handwave COVID away after the first fifteen minutes thanks to a magic antiseptic gun. Before that, Glass Onion uses the pandemic as an opportunity to characterize its players through how they react to the pandemic.

Lionel (Leslie Odom Jr.) takes the pandemic the most seriously of anyone. He’s the only in-person attendee of a video conference, and works in a massive facility with only one other employee. Claire (Kathryn Hahn) answers her front door maskless before throwing her face into her coat’s collar. When everyone reunites she wears her mask below her nose until others arrive without any. She cares more about holding the moral high ground or looking like she’s doing the right thing than actually staying safe. Birdie (Kate Hudson), with her mesh mask, is a character the audience is meant to laugh at. When she’s questioned on the wisdom of hosting a superspreader event party, she responds that the upwards of fifty people attending are all in her pod. Dave Bautista’s Duke live streams from home, his life assumedly unchanged from how it looked pre-pandemic. Though their responses to the pandemic are different, it doesn’t seem any of them have made dramatic life changes due to the circumstances. 

Even the hand-wave-the-pandemic-away antiseptic gun itself characterizes Miles Bron (Edward Norton), who the audience hasn’t yet met. At the height of the first wave of the pandemic, he has a device that can get rid of it, yet for some unexplained reason (No FDA approval? Costs v. profit? He’s just selfish?) he hasn’t made it widely available. 

The characters most affected by COVID are the film’s heroes. Though we never see the pandemic’s impact on Helen (Janelle Monae), as a teacher she’s having a rough time. “[I] do a lot of Zoom-ing,” she says while introducing herself. When we finally see Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc, he’s sitting in a lukewarm bath with the lights off, surrounded by books and crosswords, losing a game of Among Us. He is, quite plainly, depressed. 

This is the closest the film comes to the horrors of the pandemic, and I was surprised it showed even this. So many TV shows and movies have completely ignored COVID. It’s easy to do, and why bring up something that reminds audiences of the hard times? This scene is an admission that lockdown hit a lot of us hard. And that it’s Daniel Craig too drives this home—James Bond never would have been allowed to look like this, depressed and wallowing in his pain. 

The pandemic did change every aspect of our lives, how we worked, how we got groceries, how we learned, how we socialized. Why is this the first major popular entertainment to treat it meaningfully, even if it’s only for the first fifteen minutes? Perhaps the pandemic is still too recent, with around 400 people in the US still dying a week due to the disease. Perhaps film executives don’t want to risk a film acknowledging something that took the lives of so many Americans with the wounds still fresh. I’ll be the first to admit I have no desire to watch a serious drama set during the COVID pandemic. 

So how should pop culture show the impact of the pandemic? Not every story can grapple with the real human cost. Comedy can certainly lighten the tone and make thinking about COVID palatable, but if the only stories that acknowledge the “panini” are comedy, will that romanticize our lived experiences as we view the past through rose colored glasses? Do we need personal stories of the woes of the pandemic to remember them as a society? As stories set during the COVID pandemic begin to emerge, now is the perfect time to discuss the service they provide. Glass Onion explores the pandemic in a recognizable way that makes audiences laugh and think for fifteen minutes. What would it take for a story to do that from beginning to end?


  1. Phil

    great piece!

    “The film is keenly dialed in to the present moment, presenting a timely commentary on the uber rich following Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter.”

    yes! I was really impressed with how good this timing was, I can’t imagine that they could’ve planned for Elon specifically to escalate so much in online presence and influence, but… he definitely did, and it makes the commentary hit that much harder as tesla stocks continue to tank into the ground lol

    • Sam Tuit

      Thanks friend! It’s hard for me to not write a media analysis piece every month, so it was nice to let myself do this.

      I’m pretty sure I saw an interview with Rian Johnson where he admitted he got super lucky on the release timing. Anna’s piece a few days ago called the film mediocre, and I think that’s true if you’re looking for a mystery, but this film and it’s predecessor feel more like social critique under the shell of mystery than a proper mystery.


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