With the opening of Murder on the Orient Express this November, I wondered aloud if it was possible for Agatha Christie to become, COOL again. Naturally, my wife countered with – Has she ever been out of style? After all, Christie’s own website, www.agathachristie.com calls her the bestselling author of all time. Her books remain on the shelves at Barnes & Noble, and prior to the movie’s release, I’ve started getting sales e-mails from every online e-book retailer on the planet. Yes, the entire planet!
Yet in a world of fingertip technology, can stories where the protagonist has no access to a billion instant reference sources capture today’s reader. Just look at all the updated Sherlock Holmes efforts. In the BBC edition, it is almost as if Holmes’s brain is hot-wired into the internet. He stares at his phone constantly while data swirls around him like confetti.
In 2013, a modern adaptation of The Great Gatsby was released featuring Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role. This over the top remake of The Great American Novel was a success at the box-office. It introduced a younger generation to this classic cautionary tale of love, decadence, idealism and the American dream. Within the first 30 days of the film’s release, e-book sales of Fitzgerald’s novel spiked 250 percent.
Gatsby’s tale of money, greed, and sex fit right into this century’s reality-obsessed television and online video generation. The question is, while many of Christie’s novels use the same set of themes, they are much more subtlety placed in the backdrop of her whodunits. Also, take into account that solving crimes in the 21st century is now all about science. We can lift latent fingertips with super glue, determine the time of death almost down to the minute, and with DNA, link the victim to murderer conclusively. Can a Belgian with only his little gray cells be the next Harry Potter?
The estates of Elvis, Michael Jackson, Audrey Hepburn, and Agatha Christie have done fantastic jobs in keeping their muses relevant and in demand. Christie’s whodunits have been adapted into thirty feature films. In fact, 1974s Orient Express production won Ingrid Bergman an Academy Award and launched a series of star-studded films based on the author’s works.
David Suchet’s portrayal of Hercule Poirot in the nineties sparked a strong resurgence in Dame Agatha’s prose. The BBC leaped into production with Christie’s other classic character Miss Marple. Both series continued to produce new and sadly sometimes poorly adapted versions of the author’s original text until around 2013. The Miss Marple series even tried to update its look, moving the context of many of the stories into the late sixties and twisting the narrative to include LGBT themes in the plots.
There is little doubt that the Queen of Crime had a gift for developing slight-of-hand stories that kept her readers guessing until the last page. Maybe it does not matter about revolutions in scientific detection. Christie’s stories are puzzles that challenge the mind, kind of like Words with Friends or Sudoku.
Murder on the Orient Express is considered by many to be one of Christie’s masterpieces. The previews feature a cross-generational cast that I am sure the producers hope will bring a great mix to the theater. I confess it is a film both my wife and I have on our holiday list. Yet, it seems a more modern adaption of something like, And Then There Were None, would have had a greater appeal to today’s younger filmgoers.
Like 1990s Scream franchise, and 2000s Saw series, this murder mystery offers an excellent body count, with a terrific twist ending. While its theme has been adapted many times since its publication in 1939, it offers something that might get the social media crowd talking. Of course, I am a little bias; the novel was the first book I purchased at my middle school scholastic book fair in 19xx. I had read the plot summary in the catalog and was captivated. The film adaption, Ten Little Indians, had also hit prime-time television, and the storyline was much talked about at lunch and recess.
From the trailer, the production appears to be a period piece, which should capture us Downton Abby fans. The director Kenneth Branagh had success in 1991 with the neo-noir mystery thriller Dead Again, which also featured a suspenseful conclusion. The real star of the movie, the train, remains one of society’s most compelling forms of transportation, although roughly only ten percent of all Americans over eighteen have even ridden one.
Which brings us back to Christie’s shot at being cool again. Oddly enough, we find ourselves in much the same state of affairs as the author’s first fans were back in the 1920s. We are under attack by modernism (technology), tired of war, and struggling to discover order in a chaotic landscape. Just like Harry Potter’s magical realm, Agatha’s detective fiction is set in what appears to be a simpler place, although like Eden inhabited by a few snakes. The stories do not ramble but are structured with clear beginnings, middles, and ends. Best of all with the conclusion of each story, order is restored, something that does not appear to be happening in the world today.
With the release of the movie, all the pieces of the puzzle are in place to give the masterful maven of the whodunits a chance at a rebirth. Yet will any of it connect with today’s Twitter crowd? It is a mystery that may require #PoirotandMarple to solve together.