Exploring Music In 'Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery'


Ellen Morris (she/her) discusses how music creates ambience in the new Netflix hit mystery film

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By Ellen Morris

The sequel ‘whodunit’ movie, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery hit 273.2 million hours watched in its first 24 days of Netflix release. If you have not seen this movie, I suggest going and watching it now before I spoil it for you. Released on 23rd December 2022, it was a highly strategic time to get the family together for a movie in light of the festive period. On Christmas Eve, I gathered with my family, our eyes glued to the screen, (with the exception of pausing it to grab another drink) immersed in what could happen next. The break gave time for discussion, creating new subplots and predicting who the traitor was; we concluded that our far-fetched ideas could even have made a more thrilling movie. Someone get us in touch with Rian Johnson! But regardless, with such an entrancing film, the music must have been on par - right? Right!

The first scene of the movie began with Figure in G Minor, BWV 578 “Little’, by John Stewart Bach and performed by Tat’jana Petrovna Nikolajeva. The first character, played by Kathryn Hahn, was introduced to this slow classical score, whilst she stressfully rushed to prepare for her CNN interview. The music remained unchanged until she was notified of the anonymous invitation which queued the line, ’It’s from Miles’. The piano immediately fell off-key and ceased. This choice imminently signified to us that Miles was going to be the villain!

Our first meeting with this ominous ‘Miles’ (played by Edward Norton) begins contrastingly to how we all imagined him to be, he serenaded the newcomers to his island with the sweet and serene sound of ‘Blackbird’ by The Beatles on his acoustic guitar. This song was an incredible choice for his introduction, setting the tone for the rest of the movie. Paul McCartney originally wrote this song not about a blackbird, but ‘from me to a Black woman’ during the civil rights movement; he said in Barry Mile's Many Years From Now ‘Let me encourage you to keep trying, to keep your faith; there is hope.’ If you have seen the film, you will know it centres around a Black woman, ‘Andi’ Brand, impersonated by her revealed twin Helen Brand (both played by Janelle Monáe). Helen is seeking justice for Andi whom she knows was murdered by someone on the island. It is then ironic that Miles is later revealed to be the murderer, and even more ironic that Andi received justice in the end. His short performance of McCartney’s fingerpicking string-style song, subtly foreshadows how he has already and is about to pull some strings on the island. The encouraging song of Black hope is twisted to one that emerges as conniving on a second watch, yet appears to be significant in the finale of justice for Andi.

Delving further into the use of ‘Blackbird’, McCartney revealed in 2005 that the chords were influenced by a piece by Bach and adapted into the beautiful sound they released in 1968. This carefully links to the opening of the movie and the continued use of Bach throughout different scenes. Bach and McCartney have a clear effect on the plot of the movie. Discussing this, it is difficult to ignore the significance of The Beatles’ song ‘Glass Onion’; hey, that’s the name of the movie! It plays as the credits roll, whilst we have just viewed the downfall (to say the least) of Miles’ own glass onion, and the chaos between the characters. The layers of Mile’s glass onion were peeled back to reveal his true nature; although it was transparent all along - from the moment the smooth piano flunked in the very first minute. This merges fluently with the aim of the song, written by John Lennon to be about how fans read too deeply into their lyrics; they are multi-layered, however, the meaning of the lyrics are as clear as they seem. There is not always need for hidden meanings, everything can be how it appears.

During said ‘downfall’, ’Mona Lisa’ by Nat King Cole begins to play; ‘Andi’ is running in slow-motion, racing against Miles to stop her from attempting to burn the Mona Lisa - unsuccessfully. The Mona Lisa's symbolises Miles’ vast power through continuous capitalist exploitation of the people whom he called friends. All you can hear is Nat King Cole’s rhythmic chorus celebrating the Mona Lisa’s beauty, while a contrasting sight of Miles’ silent screams sync with the song to make it appear that he is wailing her name. A vicarious rush of triumph is fuelled by this scene’s score choice, although alternatively a sense of dread as you watch the infamous painting curl up and burn. It feels like you could cry along to the song too.

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery was an enthralling watch with symbolic music that attached new meanings to the viewing experience, and I definitely will be watching it again - I hope you do too!