Warning: This article contains spoilers for the plot of “Glass Onion.”
Partway into “Glass Onion,” the new sequel to 2019 murder mystery “Knives Out,” tech billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton) excitedly outlines the “murder mystery” game he has devised for his guests. But his glee is cut short by one guest, private detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig). Within seconds, Blanc solves Bron’s mystery, much to the billionaire’s chagrin. By the film’s end, thanks to Blanc and his client Helen Brand (Janelle Monáe), Bron hasn’t just lost his party theme. He’s destroyed his reputation, exposed himself as a murderer and incinerated his house — and the “Mona Lisa” to boot.
It all makes Miles Bron the perfect villain for 2022: a tycoon far dumber than he realizes.
Thanks to recent headlines, for many viewers, Bron’s mixture of bluster, hubris and half-baked ideas will likely bring to mind Twitter owner and part-time car enthusiast Elon Musk. But, as Norton has noted, he and writer-director Rian Johnson based Bron on multiple (unnamed) real-life billionaires and tech figures, not one specific person. The movie’s root conflict — Bron’s ouster of Helen’s sister Cassandra (Monáe) from the company they co-founded based on Cassandra’s idea — evokes Mark Zuckerberg’s battles in building Facebook. His proselytizing for a not-ready-for-prime-time technology — in this case, an unstable hydrogen fuel — recalls Elizabeth Holmes. His wardrobe of T-shirts and necklaces suggests Sam Bankman-Fried and other casually attired entrepreneurs.
Like all these figures, Bron is utterly convinced of his own genius. He speaks passionately of being a “disrupter.” He portrays himself as an innovator, even though he stole his co-founder’s ideas. His island is only accessible via a glass dock that looks impressive, but is only accessible at low tide, with the local police referring to it as a “piece of s---.” He brushes aside warnings that his hydrogen fuel is too unstable — heedlessness that literally blows up in his face. And he attempts to pull off multiple murders under the nose of the world’s greatest detective.
That wealth, luck and success in one field at one time does not bestow world-spanning expertise is not a new idea. Any moderately knowledgeable sports fan can rattle off a dozen owners whose resources far outpace their abilities, from the Washington Commanders’ Daniel Snyder to Manchester United’s Glazer family. The annals of business are littered with companies and executives who flamed out spectacularly after mistaking one success for utter infallibility.
But it is Blanc’s initial difficulty in identifying Bron as the culprit that explains why we’re stuck seeing this lesson play out time and again. From the moment Helen Brand brings her case to Blanc, Bron is the obvious suspect. Blanc — and the viewer — wants the solution to be more complicated, to contain some sort of hidden brilliance. And even when Blanc lays out the crudeness of Bron’s plan, his friends still cling to the myth of his genius. “It’s so dumb, it’s brilliant!” gasps Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson).
“No!” Blanc cries. “It’s just dumb!”
Just as Bron believes his success as a “disruptor” means he can outfox a famous detective, Musk, Zuckerberg and the like seem to believe they are the exception to the rule. Just as for much of the movie, Blanc and the viewer doubt Bron would be so stupid as to kill the woman he just had a very public court battle with, so many people believed that FTX would never go under, because it was backed by dozens of well-known investment firms. Many believed Zuckerberg would conquer the metaverse. And, most prominently, many believed Musk had a plan when he massively overpaid for Twitter. To borrow the movie’s central metaphor, the hype these big names create is a glass onion. Layers built upon layers never obscure the central truth that each presumed genius is one person with blind spots and foibles and downright idiocies.
Of course, when Bron’s foolishness culminates in the destruction of the “Mona Lisa,” it’s just a movie. In the real world, these faux geniuses’ mistakes have real consequences. FTX and other crypto industry collapses have left many small investors wiped out, wondering if they'll ever be made whole. And Twitter may not be the “Mona Lisa” — not by a long shot — but it is the closest thing the world has to a virtual public square. Its ongoing sacrifice to Musk's ego isn’t funny or clever.
It’s just dumb.