Glass Onion: Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc is a notch above Hollywood’s usual bland queerbait

We all love secrets. After all, that is the central thrill of a crime novel. Tell the audience there’s been a murder, trap a group of shady archetypes in a room and just keep pulling the strings until it all unravels. It’s an old-fashioned genre that’s made an unlikely comeback in recent years with Rian Johnson’s slick, hilarious puzzle game of 2019 knife out sit under efforts like Murder on the Orient Express, thriller and See how they run on the crest of the criminal police. But Johnson knows that with some things – like the sexual identity of your lead character in an exciting new movie franchise – mystery just doesn’t work.

knife out Daniel Craig played Benoit Blanc, a sluggish Southern private investigator who is brought in to solve the murder of a wealthy crime writer. Blanc (partly through Craig’s pleasantly ridiculous characterization) has glued together a long tradition of supernatural on-screen detectives from Sherlock to Columbo, and still managed to establish himself as a seminal character and a worthy original creation. Blanc returns this week Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, a standalone sequel that pits the character against a whole new cast of eccentric maybe-killers. In the film, Blanc is shown to be living with another man (played in a cameo by a very famous film star). At a press conference ahead of the film’s festival premiere last month, Johnson, who also wrote the screenplay, was asked if the character was queer. “Yes, he obviously is,” came the reply.

On the surface, this proclamation appears like another iteration of the empty and performative “representational” trend that’s prevalent in big media. (It’s often referred to as “queerbaiting.”) You see it again and again: a filmmaker or actor declares this or that popular character canonically queer, but refuses to make it explicit in the work itself. Think Donald Glover’s “pansexual” Lando Calrissian in Solo: A Star Wars Story. Ryan Reynolds “pansexual” Deadpool. Marvel’s Loki, whose much-touted on-screen bisexuality has resulted in a single line of dialogue so far. Even lesser-known films have tried to get in on the action: Anyone remember those embarrassing attempts to berate Jack Whitehall’s bland gay pal at Disney’s? jungle cruise? It’s a veritable epidemic in the mainstream film industry: studios desperate for the praise of progressivism (and the money that comes from it) but unwilling to take chances with queer-centric stories. So is glass onion really that different?

Well it couldn’t be. It is true that the film makes no effort to make Blanc’s sexuality explicit; his partner could easily have been written off as a roommate. Like everyone else, this person calls him “Blanc” — a joke, but also a cunning disguise to a cynical eye. However, Blanc’s oddity is present on screen to a degree: in the way he dresses (especially in this bland sequel set on a Greek island) and in the tenor of some of his interpersonal dynamics. glass onion may seem like another entry from the Hollywood queerbaiting playbook on the surface, but I would argue that Blanc is something else. It reads as queer in a way that Deadpool, for example, doesn’t.

Maybe that sets him apart from the empty gestures of queer characters in movies like Dead Pool or Thor: Love and Thunder is simply the fact that it is well written. Blanc is a distinct and thoughtfully constructed character; despite the inventions of glass onionIn Blanc’s storyline, there is always a clear sense of Blanc’s personality, his values. The problem with Deadpool or Lando Calrissian being supposedly queer is that they don’t feel like humans at all. It’s not that they appear straight per se, but that they’re entirely devoid of sexuality: they’re goofy prank delivery machines cloaked in alienating computer graphics. When all I’m watching is a man firing lasers into falling debris while muttering, “So the just happened,” to be honest, I don’t care what their sexual preferences are.

It feels like in Benoit Blanc we’re witnessing the rise of an original movie character with real lasting potential. In an industry absolutely saturated with franchises and customizations – where “existing IP” is not just a buzzword but an entire corporate religion – knife 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 “bleed-’em-dry” franchise ethos. Instead, it was greeted as a blessing: Johnson and Craig had stumbled upon a good thing, and who knows where it might lead?

Ana de Armas and Daniel Craig in Knives Out

(Claire Folger)

Blanc follows a long tradition of film detectives that includes a number of the most popular and enduring characters in fiction: characters such as Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple or Columbo. They’re all straight, of course. (In 2015, Benedict Cumberbatch hinted that his version of Sherlock might actually be gay, though that idea was abandoned fairly quickly.) Blanc’s sexuality may be what sets him apart from the crowd — not his only defining trait, but maybe a define one.

Ultimately, queer representation is held back by some stubborn realities of the modern film industry – not the least of which is a regressive prudishness about sex in general. A frivolous thriller will certainly not change anything about that. But who knows? Maybe in 30 years Benoit Blanc will be a household name. For now, at least, we’re content with what we get – an encouraging indication that straightness in mainstream literature no longer needs to feel like the standard.

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery will be in theaters through November 29 before arriving on Netflix on December 23 Glass Onion: Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc is a notch above Hollywood’s usual bland queerbait


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