HomeEntertainmentMoviesGlass Onion: Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc is a cut above Hollywood’s usual...

Glass Onion: Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc is a cut above Hollywood’s usual insipid queerbaiting

WWe all like a mystery. After all, that’s the central thrill of a whodunit. Tell the audience that a murder has been committed, lock a group of crafty archetypes in a room and keep pulling the thread until the whole thing unravels. It’s an old-school genre that’s made an unlikely comeback in recent years, with Rian Johnson’s slick, funny 2019 puzzle game Knives out sitting between efforts like Murder on the Orient Express, Murder Mystery and See how they run at the top of the who dunnaissance. But Johnson knows that when it comes to some things, like your main character’s sexual identity in a hot new movie franchise, mystery isn’t enough.

Knives out saw Daniel Craig play Benoit Blanc, a trailing Southern private investigator called in to solve the murder of a wealthy crime novelist. In keeping with a long tradition of supernatural screen sleuths, from Sherlock to Columbo, Blanc (partly through Craig’s pleasantly ridiculous characterization) nonetheless managed to establish himself as a breakaway character and a worthy original creation. Blanc returns this week Glass Onion: A Mystery of the Blades, a standalone sequel that pits the character against a whole new set of eccentric maybe killers. In the film, Blanc is shown living with another man (played in a cameo by a very famous movie star). At a press conference ahead of the film’s festival premiere last month, Johnson, who also wrote the script, was asked if the character is strange. “Yes, he clearly is,” was the reply.

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Now, on the surface, this proclamation appears to be yet another repetition of the empty and performative “representation” trend prevalent in major media franchises. (It’s often referred to as “queerbaiting.”) You see it happen over and over: A filmmaker or actor will canonically call this or that popular character queer, while refusing to make it explicit in the work itself. Think Donald Glover’s “pansexual” Lando Calrissian Solo: A Star Wars Story. Ryan Reynolds’ “pansexual” Deadpool. Marvel’s Loki, whose acclaimed on-screen bisexuality amounted to a single out-of-line dialogue so far. Even lesser-known movies have tried to join the crowd: does anyone remember the embarrassing attempts to make Jack Whitehall’s tawdry gay sidekick into Disney’s Jungle Cruise? It’s an unmitigated epidemic in the mainstream movie industry: studios desperate for the praises of progressivism (and the money that flows from it) but unwilling to really take a risk with queer-centered storytelling. So also Glass onion really so different?

Well, maybe it isn’t. It’s true that the movie doesn’t bother to make Blanc’s sexuality explicit; his partner could have easily been written off as a roommate. Like everyone else, this person calls him “Blanc” – a joke, but also, to a cynical eye, a sly obfuscation. However, Blanc’s strangeness is present on screen to some extent: in the way he dresses (especially in this sultry Greek island sequel) and in the tenor of some of his interpersonal dynamics. Glass onion may seem like just another entry from the Hollywood queerbaiting playbook, but there is, I’d say, something different about Blanc. He reads oddly in a way that, say, Deadpool doesn’t.

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Perhaps what sets him apart from the strange characters with empty gestures in movies like deadpool or Thor: Love and Thunder is just the fact that it is well written. Blanc is an outspoken and thoughtfully constructed character; despite the reservations of Glass onion‘s plot, you always have a clear sense of Blanc’s personality, his values. The problem with, say, Deadpool or Lando Calrissian supposedly being weird is that they don’t feel like human beings at all. It’s not that they seem straight per se, but that they’re totally devoid of sexuality: they’re idiotic delivery machines, swaddled in alienating computer graphics. If I just watch a guy shoot lasers at falling debris while muttering, “so That just happened”, frankly I don’t care what their sexual preference is.

There’s a sense that in Benoit Blanc we’re witnessing the emergence of an original movie character with real lasting potential. In an industry absolutely saturated with franchises and adaptations – where “existing IP” is not just a buzzword, but an entire corporate religion – Knives out was a rarity as a completely original commercial hit. When news broke that Netflix was spending $450 million on two sequels, it could have been seen as a capitulation to the modern “blood ’em dry” philosophy. Instead, it was welcomed as a blessing: Johnson and Craig had accomplished something good, and who knows where it could lead?

Ana de Armas and Daniel Craig in ‘Knives Out’

(Claire Folger)

Blanc follows a long tradition of screen detectives, consisting of some of the most beloved and enduring characters in fiction: figures such as Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple or Columbo. Of course they are all straight. (In 2015, Benedict Cumberbatch hinted that his version of Sherlock might in fact be gay, though this idea was abandoned fairly quickly.) Blanc’s sexuality may be what sets him apart from the pack — not his only defining trait, but maybe a define one.

Ultimately, queer representation is held back by some of the persistent realities of the modern film industry – not least a decline in prudishness when it comes to sex in general. A frivolous whodunnit is certainly not going to change that. But who knows? Maybe Benoit Blanc will be a household name in 30 years. At least for now, we’re making do with what we’re given – an encouraging suggestion that honesty no longer needs to feel like the default in mainstream fiction.

‘Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery’ is in theaters until November 29, before hitting Netflix on December 23



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