A Case for ‘Murder on the Orient Express’

Something people may not know about me is that my favorite genre of movie is ‘Drama.’ Most people would guess ‘Comedy,’ ‘Rom-Com,’ maybe even ‘Musical.’ While I certainly enjoy those types of movies, the ones that stir my heart the most are the ones that focus on the human condition.

Murder on the Orient Express is one such film; it came to theaters back in November (2017) and was released on DVD in February (2018). This past weekend Chris and I saw it for the second time (it’s available to rent from Redbox if you’re interested), and we were just as enthralled by the feature as we were the first time we saw it.

I’ve written before about our “measuring stick” of quality. We tend to decide how much we enjoy something (anything) based on the amount of goodness, truth, and beauty that it possesses. In both of our opinions — which doesn’t seem to be shared by the masses (it only scored a 54% on ‘Rotten Tomatoes’) — Murder on the Orient Express provides a plethora.

Goodness

First of all, the acting in this movie is scintillating! The cast list is bursting at the seams with famed actors and actresses — including Dame Judi Dench, Kenneth Branagh, Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom Jr., Penelope Cruz, Josh Gad, Johnny Depp, Derik Jacobi, Willem Dafoe, and Michelle Pfiefer (just to name a few). Their combined performance was anything but tawdry. In fact it kept both Chris and I awake well past our bedtime, even though we had seen the movie before.

Having never read the original book by Agatha Christie upon which the screenplay was based, I cannot judge the film’s accuracy in regards to the original plot (although from some reviews I’ve read from avid fans of the book, quite a lot was changed). As a screenplay, I thought it was beautifully done and phenomenally written, from the dialogue to the transition of scenes, the entire movie had me captivated. However, as a parallel to the original story, many seem to find it incredibly frustrating.

Beyond that, there is certainly goodness in the story itself. The protagonist, Hercule Poirot, is a world famous detective who has solved every case he’s been a part of. He had been en route to a much-needed vacation when his plans were suddenly changed because of a case he was needed for in London. He boarded the Orient Express (a train owned and operated by the family of a friend) in the hopes of getting at least a few days rest before reaching their destination. Of course, when a fellow passenger is murdered, Poirot’s friend begs him to take on the case. Though he initially refuses, the detective agrees when it is pointed out to him that local law enforcement will most likely blame it on one of the two minorities aboard, Dr. Abuthnot (an African-American physician) or Mr. Marquez (a Mexican immigrant who owns multiple car dealerships). Not wanting an innocent man to hang, Poirot accepts the case.

Poirot’s character and virtue is astounding. He is very particular, but also incredibly kind and selfless. He is not easily persuaded or bullied into doing things he does not want to do. He is bold, the type to “call a spade, a spade” and yet he does so with respect and tact. There is certainly much goodness in the heart and soul of this man — which was one of the reasons he had been hoping for a vacation. The cases and crimes he had been endlessly solving were beginning to weigh on him. Still, despite his fatigue and initial desire to be left alone, Piorot solves the case while showing respect and reserving judgement of everyone on board. Even after he solves the puzzle (perhaps the most trying case of his career), he never treats his fellow man with anything but love — although sometimes it is a firm love.

Truth

This section might be a little vague, as I have no desire to spoil the ending of the movie/book for any of you. However, there is one truth that stands out to me the most in this movie. It is the principle of solidarity.

solidaritySimply put, solidarity is the recognition that we live in unity with all those around us sharing our material and spiritual gifts with each other. We don’t exist in isolated fields; the quality of our lives are intertwined. As Mother Teresa would say,

“…we all belong to one another…”

As Christians/Catholics, we believe that we are “one body,” with each other and with Jesus Christ, our head (1 Cor 12:12-27). We all have the same Creator and all are ordered to his glory.

Sadly, sin injures human solidarity (CCC 1849). This means that if one of us suffers, we all suffer. This truth is highly apparent among the passengers. One horrific event caused by the sin of another from years previous has caused each and every single one of them to suffer excruciating pain in their own way. This movie beautifully shows the truth of the human condition, that the suffering and loss of one is also loss experienced by many, creating a rippling effect.

Beauty

The cinematography of this film is breathtaking — a true piece of art. From the scenery, to the angles of the shots (which they have to be creative with due to the narrow spaces of the train), to the stunning costume and set design depicting a luxurious 1930’s world – this film contains allure in every scene. Even the music composed for the feature is able to cut right to one’s heart and then stay stuck in the forefront of one’s memory (and I honestly don’t mind one single bit).

alps austria blue sky clouds
Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

The Moral Issue (and a tiny spoiler)

As presented in the film, the final dialogue ends with a note of relativism. Upon revealing who he knows to be the killer to the passengers aboard the train, our hero lies to local law enforcement and allows the killer to walk away free… simply because of how greatly he/she suffered in the past. His final exchange with his fellow passengers is this:

“I have seen the fracture of the human soul. So many broken lives, so much pain and anger, giving way to the poison of deep grief, until one crime became many. I have always wanted to believe that man is rational and civilized. My very existence depends upon this hope, upon order and methods and the little grey cells, but now perhaps I am asked to listen instead to my heart. I have understood in this case that the scales of justice cannot always be evenly weighed and I must learn for once to live with the imbalance.”

I am sorry Mr. Piorot, but I have to disagree. Wrong is wrong, no matter how terribly one has suffered…


My final piece of advice for anyone who watches this film: have some tissues ready nearby.

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