It should be perfectly obvious that Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery features at least one Beatles song.
The titular tune, from the Fab Four’s 1968 self-titled album, better known as the White Album, doesn’t feature until the end credits, but the song’s titular object is a prominent feature and term used throughout the film.
A surprise for some might be that it is not the only White Album track to appear in the film: when the crew arrives at the island, Edward Norton’s Miles Bron serenades them with the beginning of “Blackbird,” another Beatles song.
What is so impressive about these two selections is not that they are just fun homages for Beatles fans but how intricately they tie into the movie’s plot and themes.
The titular track, “Glass Onion,” was written by John Lennon in 1968 as a takedown of how many critics and fans of the Beatles’ music would attempt to over-analyze the lyrics to find a deeper meaning in them that simply wasn’t there.
The “Glass Onion” is a metaphor for this: looking too deeply into something transparent for multiple layers, as many fans would read things into Beatles songs like “A Day in the Life” and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” that just weren’t present.
Lennon satirizes the fans for “look(ing) into a glass onion,” and the film has a very similar trajectory for its central mystery: any Beatles fan who knows the meaning of the titular song will go into Glass Onion guessing the answer to the mystery will seem complex on the surface but actually be obvious.
They will be right. Glass Onion’s opening foreshadows this plot element as most of the cast solves a series of complex puzzle boxes to find a simple invitation, while the film’s heroine (Janelle Monáe) simply breaks the box to pieces.
In the plot, many layers of seeming mystery and complexity are used to conceal the identity of the true killer and even the real victim. Miles Bron uses various layers of concealment and false stories to hide his painfully obvious plan and motives; the seeming complexity of the nature of the whodunit — a gigantic case of suspects with a large number of motives for the crime — yet the most obvious suspect, Bron himself, is, in fact, the killer. The answer is, in this film, always in plain sight.
The significance of the second Beatles song, however, is much more oblique and easier to miss. “Blackbird,” also off the White Album, was written by Paul McCartney. According to McCartney’s 2021 The Lyrics memoir,
While Glass Onion avoids any direct commentary on racism, the subtext of the film’s core plot — about a white man appropriating a Black woman’s work to become rich and claiming her ideas as his own — is crystal clear. The film’s main plot secretly follows Janelle Monáe’s Helen, the identical twin sister of Andi, the inventor whose work Bron has stolen, in her efforts to expose how Bron killed her sister to hide his crimes.
In the end, she succeeds in taking down his empire, if not necessarily exposing his murder, and Glass Onion ends with a shot of her face taking in her successful takedown.
Given the deliberateness of Johnson’s writing, the snatch of a song that translated means “Black woman, singing in the dead of night/Take these broken wings and learn to fly” in this story cannot be coincidental.
Neither is the titular song’s plot significance. This use goes beyond simply utilizing familiar songs; this is sound-tracking as a narrative construction, one of the strongest uses of iconic tracks in a film. Glass Onion should be taken as a model of how to use classic songs on film, not just for fun but as integral symbols of the plot itself.
To see how both of these songs factor into the story, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery is now available to stream on Netflix.