Lately, I’ve been reading essays and excerpts from larger works for my thesis. I’d rather not write a review of any of those, so instead here’s a review of a book I recently read for fun: Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express and its recent film adaptation.
This novel was the first of Agatha Christie’s that I’ve read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The story, while simple, was intriguing. The novel was one of many that told the story of the detective Hercule Poirot and the many mysteries he solved. In this particular case, Poirot is on the Orient Express, headed to London. A passenger has been murdered and the only possible suspects are the other passengers. The novel served me well as a nice mental stroll while I cozied up with a cup of coffee and my cat during the Thanksgiving break. Upon finishing the book, I also went to see the current film adaptation starring Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot. While certainly not the greatest movie I’ve ever seen, I also thoroughly enjoyed this adaptation. As with all film adaptations, certain changes were made in the details of the story to better serve this differing medium. The most obvious of these changes was the conflation of two characters (Dr. Constantine and Colonel Arbuthnot) into one — Dr. Arbuthnot. But there were also subtle changes made to encourage visual interest — having Poirot’s interviews of the passengers take place in varying locations instead of one room. These types of changes in film adaptations rarely bother me. I’ve come to understand why such changes may be made and often choose to appreciate the work they do for entertainment’s sake. However, this is not the case for everyone.
Upon entering the theater to watch the film, I found myself surrounded by a variety of people from different backgrounds. In the row in front of me were two women, presumably in late high school or early college, who spent the entirety of the previews and most of the film snapchatting. They left about 30 minutes before the movie even ended. To my right sat a man, probably around my age. He was alone and slept through a good portion of the film. As soon as the credits began to roll, he made a phone call and soon left. To my immediate left was my partner. Further down were a group of women I assumed to be grown siblings. Finally, behind me sat a woman and her date. They seemed to be around my age. This young woman spent the previews talking about how much she loved the story of Hercule Poirot and the many mysteries he solved.
The film ends with Poirot disembarking from the Orient Express. A young officer informs him that there has been a murder on the Nile and his immediate assistance in solving the case is needed. Poirot must go to Egypt at once. As I got up to leave the theater, the young woman behind me turned to her date and said, “That’s wrong. The murder happens when he’s already there!” It occurred to me this woman had not seemed to enjoy the film at all. Rather, she had spent the entire hour and 54 minutes looking for “mistakes.” Her expectations had set her up for displeasure. Expectations always influence our reality. To this woman, who my partner and I later dubbed “Annie Actually,” no adaptation could be good enough, precisely because it was an adaptation. Instead of seeing this changes to this version of the story as doing a certain kind of work, she chose to seem them as a mishandling of the story — as if the only “true” version of the story was the original.
It seems to me, that way I understand these changes in the story is very different from Ms. Actually’s. Personally, I don’t usually hold the media I consume for entertainment to the same standards I would for academic work. I expect academic work to be consistent and clear. For entertainment, I find changes between versions of a story interesting. In some cases, those might later become points of discussion within a blog post and sometimes even academic work. Ultimately, instead of watching a film adaptation, waiting to be disappointed by discrepancies from the book, I’d rather find the discrepancies and find interest in the work that they do to tell the story.