We all know about the ‘crazy ex-girlfriend trope. Rachel Bloom pointed out in the theme song of her musical series of the same name that this is a ‘sexist term’ — but that hasn’t stopped scorned women and unhinged exes popping up time and time again as the red-lipsticked movie villain.
The tradition of the ‘scorned women’ dates as far back as the 1600s, with William Congreve’s tragedy play ‘The Mourning Bride’ originating the now-iconic line: “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” But one place in which the ‘scorned woman’ has found an exceptional amount of success is in Hollywood. Glenn Close vengefully boiling her ex lover’s pet bunny in ‘80s movie Fatal Attraction was merely the start of this endlessly boring and predictable trope which, above all else, is rooted in misogyny.
If a female villain isn’t conventionally attractive (or as comparatively attractive as the lead character’s love interest), they immediately fall into the grotesque, disturbing ‘hag’ category, like the Ugly Sisters in Disney movie Cinderella or the creepy Knives in superhero movie Scott Pilgrim vs The World.
It even stretches as far as anime movies and TV series, where you have the storylines pinned on ‘yandere’ schoolgirls who go on murderous rampages if their love interest doesn’t like them back. Yet, even if these female protagonists are conventionally attractive, they are sexualised up until the point they are no longer palatable in the protagonists’ eyes: and so, naturally, the only logical conclusion for plot convenience is to make them ‘crazy’ while ensuring that, amidst their crimes of passion, they never forget to wear lingerine and eye shadow.
In any case, at the crux of these ‘scorned women’ is the idea that their emotional stability depends on their (usually male) partner being faithful to them. Without a man there to validate them, they become hysterical! Consumed by jealousy! They’re willing to commit all kinds of heinous crimes, because what is life without a man to dote on them?
Even if we put aside the sheer sexualisation of scorned women as seen in sequences like Chicago, it’s deeply problematic that, to this day, the trope is so integral to genres such as detective movies. As recently as 2022, Emma Mackey played the scorned ex in Poirot’s Death on the Nile — and while there were a few twists along the way with this Agatha Christie adaptation, her character still fulfilled those two essential roles of being hot and crazy.
So, when Janelle Monae’s character popped up in the trailer for Knives Out 2, I have to admit I rolled my eyes. To me, it seemed painfully obvious where the plot was going to go with their character, but I’ve never been more happy to be wrong. In The Glass Onion, which was directed by the king of subversion, Rian Johnson, Monae plays Cassandra ‘Andi’ Brand.
The ex of insufferable tech bro Miles Bron (Ed Norton), it is she who came up with the idea of the millions-making company, Alpha, only to be pushed out by Miles and the rest of her friend group who, despite knowing the truth, all sided with Miles because that was where the money was.
At least, in this case, when Andi showed up to Miles’ “murder mystery” party, it seemed like she had an axe to grind that was something more than her relationship: namely, the betrayal she faced by Miles’ cronies. But given our only introduction to her prior to this is manically using tools to break Miles’ elaborate invitation, it becomes clear that for the movie’s first act, at least, we’re meant to think she’s yet another woman scorned.
Glowering on the balcony of the boat, looking as hot as she does crazy, Andi is treated with contempt for most of the film. Birdie (Kate Hudson) and Claire (Katheryn Hahn) gossip about why she’s there to Benoit (Daniel Craig), and when she later appears to have an outburst and a member of the party mysteriously dies, it feels like we’re setting up for another unhinged femme fatale as the killer.
But then again, this is Rian Johnson, who sliced the Big Bad from the Star Wars sequel trilogy into pieces halfway through its second film. Once again, he subverted tropes and audience expectations through the revelation that Andi had been dead the whole time, and that her twin sister, Helen, wasn’t just taking her place, but was doing so to solve her murder.
Working in cahoots with Blanc, Helen is motivated not by passion, but sisterhood, and it soon becomes apparent that Andi’s own break up and revenge attempt on Miles isn’t because she found him desirable, and yearned for his presence in her life, but was about integrity. She wanted to expose him for the fraud he was and, in the process, stop him from using the tech business she created from mass-producing a deeply dangerous, untested product.
Helen and Blanc ultimately working together to outsmart Miles, the true villain of the film, is much more than just a gimmicky movie plot twist. It’s a commentary on the rise of “alpha male,” tech bro culture and how the idolization of people like Elon Musk and Andrew Tate is, at its core, not only rooted in misogyny, but also incredibly hollow.
With Andi and Helen, we’re served a stark reminder that just because someone has a platform, that doesn’t mean what they’re saying is the truth, and that behind every successful man, there is more often than not a much more successful women. Ex-girlfriends might be crazy, but they shouldn’t be underestimated.
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery is available to watch in theatres until November 29. From there, it will be available to stream on Netflix.