Rian Johnson: The Voice of a Generation

Over at The Everyman, I explain why Rian Johnson deserves the coveted title of Voice of a Generation:

But amazingly incompetent writers are a dime-a-dozen in Hollywood these days (see also Zack Snyder). It takes more than that to be crowned the voice of a generation. He who would aspire to such a title must also embody the most noteworthy traits of the current culture in his works.

He must, for instance, affect sophistication while betraying woeful ignorance of the subject matter. The Knives Out films, for instance, are billed as reinventions and twists on the classic whodunit, when in fact they’re just extremely standard and poorly done examples of it. The major tweaks to the formula – things like having the most obvious suspect actually be the killer, or having a seemingly convoluted and intricate plot resolve into something thoroughly simple, or apparently revealing the solution early on only to turn it around in the end – have all been done before, often, and by people who actually knew what they were doing. These aren’t bold and subversive new takes, they’re tropes that were employed by the most famous names in the genre during its heyday, and not even particularly noteworthy ones at that—nothing remotely as daring as The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, for instance. Something that anyone who was actually well-versed in the genre ought to be aware of.

In this and elsewhere, Johnson conveys a sense of blind self-satisfaction. Famously, he once said that he’d never heard what he considered a ‘legitimate’ criticism of The Last Jedi. Either no one ever said to him, “You digitally removed a dagger from a bad-guy’s hand mid-shot because you apparently didn’t notice the choreography had the heroine being gutted until post-production,” or he has an extremely refined definition of ‘legitimate criticism.’

Coupled with this is an utter lack of humanity or nuance towards his own characters; ‘good’ people are presented as perfectly moral, righteous, and admirable (even when their actions testify them to be otherwise, e.g. “you’re such a good nurse that you didn’t bother to check the labels of the medicine you were injecting into your patient”). While ‘bad’ people are presented as stupid, crass, immoral, and pathetic.

The protagonist of Glass Onion – that is, the one we the audience are supposed to agree with – even tells the murder victim’s sobbing girlfriend that he was a bad person who deserved to die. Because that’s the sort of thing good people say in the face of sudden, violent deaths. Even when they don’t go that far, his films harp quite a lot on the theme of “aren’t rich people in unearned positions of power so horrible?”

Whatever he knows about onions, I don’t think Johnson’s heard the one about glass houses.

Read the rest here.

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