Part of the reason why Janelle Monáe has rightfully racked up quite a few Best Supporting Actress wins and nominations this awards season from various critics groups is due in large part to how Rian Johnson has structured “Glass Onion.” Halfway through the film, we jump back to the beginning of the story, and instead of Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc being the protagonist, we now repeat everything we saw in the first half but through the eyes of Janelle Monáe’s Helen, who is pretending to be her murdered twin sister Andi.
If that structure sounds familiar, that’s because it is a fugue. Within the first 10 minutes of the film, Yo-Yo Ma explicitly tells you exactly how the story of “Glass Onion” is going to be told, and not one of us caught it. By structuring the story this way, the film constantly reveals to us new ways to interpret and understand what we had seen before, and the results are either hilarious, tragic, exciting, or some mixture of the three. This also allows us to see so much more dimensionality within Monáe’s performance that we couldn’t even have imagined was there before.
In that episode of The Filmcast, Rian Johnson says, “The first thing I started with — the first kind of, ‘Okay, I’ve got something here’ — was … the notion of the fugue structure.” The success of the entire film hinged on successfully pulling off that structure. Understanding it was vital for “Glass Onion,” and I’m glad he had a world-renowned musician in Yo-Yo Ma there to clarify it perfectly for the audience, making us all look dumb that we didn’t clock it.