Book vs Movie: Murder on the Orient Express

Alright, y’all! You know what time it is… It’s clobberin’ time!

Okay okay, the movie really wasn’t that bad. Actually, I really enjoyed it. I just think it was very different from the book.

So here’s how this all went down: I was super excited for Murder on the Orient Express the movie, and as you know from my previous blog on the book, I had never read any of the Agatha Christie novels before, but I was fairly well-versed in Hercule Poirot movies thanks to my wonderful parents (hi guys!). But when I heard they were making a new movie with Kenneth Branaugh as Poirot, I was really excited.

Naturally, I saw the movie at the theatre and I was…. underwhelmed. Not because it wasn’t a good movie, but because I didn’t think they got Poirot quite right. I’ll get to that in a minute, but first I’d like to mention the three biggest highlights for me in this movie:

 

  1. The visuals are stunning! For a story about being stuck on a train, this movie did not at all feel claustrophobic, which is a huge feat in my opinion. They had interesting camera angles and they managed to get a whole bunch of really wide beautiful landscape shots.
  2. The acting was great. I think that some of the actors (*cough cough* Michelle Pfeiffer) maybe overacted in some parts. Not to be confused with over-reacting. But overall, the acting was fantastic.
  3. This is more of a sub-note, but Johnny Depp was amazing in this. His portrayal of a bad guy was spot on, and I was genuinely creeped out by his performance as Casetti, which is exactly how I felt about his character while reading the story. Fantastic job on his part!

**Note: I’m not adding anything here with spoilers, I will only add something within the plot that happens, but does not play a role in the ending of the story whatsoever**

Now, let’s get to the dicey bits.

To start, there were some plot points that were not at all in the story that I understood why they were there, but felt either could have been placed better or left out completely. I’ll provide you with

 

two examples because these were the things that bugged me the most:

  1. Problems with Prejudice

It’s made pretty clear in the original story that prejudice plays a role on the train. There is an Italian man, Antonio Foscarelli, that M. Bouc consistently tries to get Poirot to believe is the murderer due to his own personal prejudices towards Italians. M. Bouc is also not the only one who has prejudices in the story – a lot of the British people and Americans have backwards ideas about one another.

However, all of these prejudices are about ethnicity, not race. In this movie not only is Colonel Arbuthnot portrayed by a black man, Leslie Odom Jr. (who is a fantastic singer, by the way; he played Aaron Burr in the original Hamilton on

 

Broadway, and really blew me away in this with his on-screen acting chops), but the Italian has been replaced with its Cuban counterpart, Biniamino Marquez.

So I have some issues with this. I mentioned earlier that there were things I think shouldn’t have been there in the first place and things that should have been arranged differently. I think this should have been arranged differently.

For instance, I completely understand that when this story came out (1934) immigration prejudices were far more talked about than those of race – that was always pretty hushed up around white people. Thus, it makes a lot of sense that the man called “The Italian” in the story would be very stereotypical, and not trusted by M. Bouc and others on the train. I also fully comprehend that we don’t have these specific prejudices in our current society. I am sure there are some who do, but for the most part that is not the focus.

The focus at the present is racial, not ethnic. Therefore, it makes a lot of sense to have someone take Foscarelli’s place to make it more topical. That is where Biniamino

 

Marquez comes in. Given our immigration issues currently, it would make a lot of sense to switch that prejudice from Italian to Hispanic. WHY DIDN’T THEY?

Instead of taking the smallest, but most effective action, they switched the story entirely and made Colonel Arbuthnot African-American, and made the prejudices about his skin color.

Here’s why that upsets me (and keep in mind that in this story, every person on the train has some connection with the Daisy Armstrong murder [a play on the Lindbergh trial] two years previously *not a spoiler*): This story takes place after WWI. Historically speaking, African-Americans were in their own regiments, and did not fight alongside white men, let alone well-to-do, influential white men. Historically speaking, it makes absolutely no sense that the Colonel would have been anywhere near Mr. Armstrong enough to have made a deep friendship with him in the war… Actually, it doesn’t make sense for them to have any connection at all in battle!

So here’s the thing, I understand that currently in America we need to have a very serious talk about the racial violence and prejudice going on. We need to figure that stuff out, and we need to have an open dialogue. I want to make that clear. My issues here are not prejudicial, they’re historical.

Now, I am not at all a “purist” – I don’t believe that every literary work when put onto the big screen needs to be exact. However, it’s important to keep the context of the story as close as possible so it doesn’t lose the overall atmosphere of the original story. In keeping the time period (1930s) but making the prejudice about the Colonel and not about the Italian (or Cuban in this case), the historical context is lost.

Granted, that’s my opinion. I feel like while it’s important to have a discussion about race in our current society, it cannot be done the way this movie wanted to do it. With keeping the time period, there is no logical way that a Colonel in WWI (or any war at the time) would have been seated alongside any African-American in equality. That would not have happened, and that really bugged me throughout the movie since they tried to keep the rest of the story historically accurate except that one piece.

What would I do differently, you ask? I think it would have made more sense to keep Colonel Arbuthnot a white man, but make the counterpart to Foscarelli (who was just a regular guy and not in the armed forces) a black man or a Cuban man, which would have aligned more accurately with the prejudices of the time.

2. Poirot’s…. Issues

Alas we come to the thing that needed to change completely: Poirot, himself.

Look, he really wasn’t that bad. He just wasn’t Poirot. What I mean is that as a detective – just a regular ol’ Belgian detective – he’s great. But as POIROT, he misses the mark.

First of all, in the movie – the very first scene of the movie, mind you – Poirot keeps sending back a poor little boy who needs to find two PERFECTLY sized eggs in order for Poirot to have his breakfast. Poirot even has a little measuring tape. In what world would Poirot ever send anything back? His manners completely forbid him to do such a thing, he would rather just sit there and be polite to a fault than send something back, especially that many times. To set the air with that first shot just threw me for a loop because it was so uncharacteristic of Poirot and it was the very first thing you see him do. Hrmph!

Then, there’s the matter of his OCD. The movie makes a big deal about Poirot being OCD to the point that they try to imply that for him, his idea that there is only right or wrong in the world is sprung on by his OCD tendencies of having a right way of doing something and a wrong way, and not a matter of his “little grey cells” that the Poirot stories general imply.

The “cells” by the way are basically a way of saying that it’s in Poirot’s DNA to understand that which others cannot in a murder case. Whereas in the movie, the writing makes it sound like he only sees things because his brain – his obsessive compulsive thoughts – are what allows him to be a good detective. While it may seem like a minuscule thing, to me it was a massive oversight. Or rather, not an oversight but a down-playing of Poirot’s natural abilities.

Finally, there is Poirot’s “heroism.” There’s a chase scene here. Poirot chases someone. A chase scene!! Poirot is supposed to be an older man, portly, gentleman in this series – how exactly do you expect Poirot to run? Because I can assure you it will mess up his mustache and if there’s one thing that you don’t mess up, it’s Poirot’s mustache! That’s all I’m going to say about that – just know that I was flabbergasted.

All in all, objectively this is a great movie. If I knew nothing about Poirot and just went in thinking that it was going to be a fun period-piece detective movie I think you’d come out of it really liking this movie. However, as someone who actually read and enjoyed the story and likes Poirot’s character in general, it was a little tougher to get really into it. Again, I also had a very hard time getting past the historical inaccuracies, which I just felt could have been handled in a more effective, less sloppy way.

But like I said, it’s still a really enjoyable movie. It has a lot of plot twists that you don’t see coming (a lot of which they added to this movie that wasn’t in the original story, but nevertheless was entertaining), the acting was great, and the cinematography was spectacular.

Not surprisingly, the book wins this battle once again!! However, while I think you should read the book, I really do urge you to see the movie as well because it really was a fun movie to watch and it’s not that long. If you have time I would say go see it or rent it at home when it comes out because it was very entertaining!

Well, that’s all folks! As always, if you have any comments or questions, feel free to leave them below, or you can e-mail me at rachel@booksandcleverness.com!

Until next time,

Rachel

e-mail: rachel@booksandcleverness.com

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“I Sing the Body Electric” – Walt Whitman

Hi guys! So I had do a little poem reading for a class I’m taking and really enjoyed this one that I’d never read by Walt Whitman, “I Sing the Body Electric.” It’s from his Leaves of Grass collection of poems, and is just absolutely fantastic.

Walt Whitman’s “I Sing the Body Electric,” begins in the 19th century (which is when this was written) at a slave auction, and discusses how he views slaves/people of color as exactly the same as white people. Whitman takes the time to verbalize every aspect of the human body to compare how alike the slave body and the white body are, and makes sure to convey to the reader that there is absolutely no difference between one body and the next, despite skin color. Whitman is obviously vehemently against slavery, and also is very pro-women’s rights, and uses this poem to express that message.

Whitman communicates this idea by discussing his view of what a female and a male (in terms of body and essence) are made of. For instance, when he describes women he explains that the proverbial “She” is something of beauty, something that produces life in more ways than one, someone who “contains all qualities, and tempers them – she is in her place, and moved with perfect balance.”  He mentions that women are “the gates of the body, and [women] are the gates of the soul.” In other words, he gives the reader a full description of what his view of the Female is – powerful, life-giving, beautiful, strong, capable, and “divine.” As he continues, he mentions that he sees this slave woman up at auction as just Female; he does not see a slave, he sees a woman who is just as capable of life-giving, just as female, as the other women he was describing. To him, white, black, or any other color – they are all equally woman, and thus equally divine.

But he doesn’t just talk about women – he discusses men as being powerful, defiant, passionate and prideful. He tells the reader, “the male is not less the soul nor more, he too is in his place,” which lets us know that he views men as equally as he does women.

Although I must say that I am genuinely impressed at his progressive views on women and equality, I also, in my own way, feel like Whitman might respect the female form more than he does the male form. I’m not saying he views them as unequal, or thinks that one should be valued over the other. Instead, what I mean is that Whitman is a man, and thus would be familiar with the male body and the strength and power that comes with it, but as a man I think he’s infatuated with the idea of what a female body can do.

Whitman even mentions, “I am drawn by [the female’s] breath as if I were no more than a helpless vapor, all falls aside but myself and it.” He sees the beauty in the form, the power in what it can do, and the mysteries of it he will never know. He appreciates that the life-cycle is dependent on the woman, and not that a man does not have a part in it, but he seems to truly respect and value the power of women.

He also, interestingly, discusses immigrants very briefly. Whitman says,

“The man’s body is sacred, and the woman’s body is sacred;

No matter who it is, it is sacred;

Is it a slave? Is it one of the dull-faced immigrants just landed on the wharf?

Each belongs here or anywhere, just as much as the well-off—just as much as you;

Each has his or her place in the procession.”

I was very taken aback at reading this since he not only mentions how he feels about immigration at the time, but also of how he equates slaves and immigrants. To start, I think it’s important to mention that starting around 1850, and going until the first World War, immigration was pouring in to cities. According to The Norton Anthology of American Literature, large cities were becoming even larger due to the influx of immigrants. For instance, New York City grew sevenfold going from 500k to 3.5 million, and Chicago went from 29K people in 1850 to more than 2 million in 1910. This is a monumental gap. This is so important because as a country we get so wrapped up in the romanticized idea that America was founded by and built by/for immigrants, and yet those in that time period did not necessarily view immigrants in a kind way.

In the 19th century (and prior), America gained a large amount of wealth from slavery and the trade/selling of goods that came from it. But at a certain point, immigrants began to understand that they may be able to leave the poverty and horrific regimes that they were experiencing and took the risk to come to America. Those immigrants were not seen as important, they were not seen as welcome. Much like the immigrants of today, many people told them to leave, and made their lives difficult if they did not; this made it extremely difficult for immigrants to make a living and for them to build a solid foundation for their families. Whitman, on the other hand, understood how the immigrants were being treated and viewed that treatment as inequality. Despite the majority of the immigrants being caucasian, he viewed their treatment as unequal, just as he viewed slavery as unequal.

Whitman also uses an interesting set of stanzas at the end of his poem that encompass what he was trying to express in the rest of his poem. He sets off to give an extremely in depth look at every single part of the human anatomy; he makes the connection that every body has these parts equally, and if we have all of the same parts, how can we not be equal? How are we truly different from one to the other? In order to make this point very clear, Whitman describes individual body parts, and his use of imagery here is remarkable. He mentions “the ample side-round of the chest,” “Broad breast-front, curling hair of the breast, breast-bone, breast-side,” and “the pale yellow and white of his hair and beard, and the immeasurable meaning of his black eyes.” It gives the reader something to envision perfectly as you read along.

The way he begins with body parts everyone has (i.e. nose, mouth, tongue, cheek, eyes, etc.) and then moves on to the individual parts of man and woman truly spark a very distinctive picture in the mind when reading it. At least for me, I had no particular color of person in mind when reading it (since Whitman does not use skin color to describe anatomy).  I think that was his point: to make simply being a human being indistinguishable from race.

Whitman also equates the Soul and the Body. He tells the reader that every Body has a soul, and that soul is equal to all other souls. Thus, no matter what skin color, religion, language or social class, we are all equal. No one has the right to forcibly take another person’s body, to take another person’s dignity, to steal their rights.

Which brings me to my last point: Whitman’s writing of this poem is of extreme importance; particularly for the people of the time he wrote this. At the time this poem was published, approximately five years before the Civil War began, there was obviously an incredible divide between North and South. This poem simply explains that divide  from the point of view of just an average observer. He can see the differences between these two groups of people: those who believed that there is nothing different from one body to the next, that it is a human right to be free, versus those who viewed slaves as property, as meat and cattle, as something that could be collected and sold, exploited and overused.

Whitman’s writing of this poem shows just how progressive he was at the time. While of course there were abolitionists and groups that sympathized them, there were certainly still divides concerning whether or not black people were equal. In my research I’ve found that there were more people who disagreed with slavery, but still viewed black people and other people of color as beneath them than there were people who viewed all bodies as equal.

So while it may seem like Whitman is simply appealing to abolitionists alone, it seems like this poem would have reached people who were against slavery but still did not see how people of color could possibly be equal to white people. Whitman even publishing this poem could have put him in hot water (and it did), but he published it anyway knowing that maybe someone who was on the fence might now be converted, and at the very least he’s gotten his opinions onto paper and out there for others to use and criticize.

I really enjoyed this poem, and thought Whitman did a truly wonderful job of capturing the truth about race, slavery, gender equality, and equality in general.

If you guys have read it, or would like to read it (I highly recommend you do!) let me know in the comments below or via email! I’d love to hear your thoughts on it, and what you inferred from reading it yourself.

If you have any other comments or questions, you can leave them below or you can email me at rachel@booksandcleverness.com! I hope to hear from you soon!

Until next time,

Rachel

email: rachel@booksandcleverness.com