Friday, July 7, 2017

Class Unity: Murder On the Orient Express (2017)

We discussed this in the last post: you have a decision to make. If you haven't read Murder On the Orient Express, or seen one of the films, i.e., you don't know what happens in this mystery, then you need to decide if it's okay to know what is going to happen going into the film or if you want to wait until you've seen the film to discuss it, because I can't even write about this poster without giving away the spoilers. Nothing else but Murder On the Orient Express is going to be covered in this post after the opening paragraph, but you will definitely know the ending of the story by the end of this caption for the poster, so either stop reading now and wait to see the film, read this great synopsis of the what happens in the story (from the original book by Agatha Christie) or do neither because you all ready know what happens. If you don't know what is going to happen and you can't decide, permit me, dear reader, to interject this thought: the entertainment value of the film is going to come, for us, from seeing what Branaugh does with the material, and changes he makes for his thesis, rather than the actual narrative and plot. If you are a stickler for such things, please, save yourself until November, otherwise, go ahead and click on the link above and read the synopsis to see what happens. Thank you for your informed participation in this post.
*If you don't want spoilers, don't read anything in this caption beyond this sentence*
The most notable feature in the poster is obviously the red, billowing cloud of smoke coming up from the train. It can actually be a fruitful exercise to ask stupid questions, so just humor me for a moment so we can work our way through this. What is the color of smoke usually coming from a train? White (yes, sometimes black, but usually white). We know a train is a vehicle, and vehicles symbolize the Holy Spirit, not because the Holy Spirit is a vehicle, rather because the Holy Spirit will use us or circumstances to bring about God's Will. So, when a train is running at full optimization, we can say, the smoke will be white because white is the color of a soul alive with faith, purity, innocence; on the other hand, it can also mean a soul which is dead to faith, purity, innocence, because a corpse turns white in decomposition, so if the "vehicle" of the Holy Spirit is alive in faith, that would will be a successful caring out the Will of God; when a soul is dead in faith, the soul will be unable to carry out God's Will--except through a major conversion experience. So, that's the best case scenario for a train with white smoke, obviously, however, we don't have a best case scenario,...
We know that red symbolizes blood, because our blood is the most valuable thing we have, so we spend our blood on our greatest appetites, which boils down to spending our blood on love for someone (we love someone so much we are willing to spend our life's blood for them), or we spend someone's else blood for our wrath against them. In the case of this film, we can say both are true for the passengers on the train: Ratchett (Johnny Depp) spilled the blood of Daisy Armstrong for his appetites against the upper-class and the money he felt he should have for himself, and the other passengers spilled his blood in wrath for killing Daisy.
What about the cloud itself? Apart from the fact that it's red, there is also the underlying symbolism of the vaporized water. Water in liquid form is the first stage of "reflection" about the self or someone else, because one can see their own reflection in water (like Narcissus); water in vapor form (fog, clouds, steam) is the second stage because then, the boundaries between the self who does the reflecting and the "other" (or the situation) has become "blurred" and there is a continuity or a bond between the self and the other. When there is snow--water in its solid state--the consciousness has become solidified, it takes tangible form in some way, with an object, an action, dialogue, etc., but it ceases to be just interiorized and becomes something substantial; with ice, there is a regression, because the reflection process attempts to become solid (like snow) yet there is still the reflective quality of the first stage of water, so the primary character finds their self in a kind of moral tug-of-war, or an inability to finish their conversion process (consider Thorin Oakenshield in The Hobbit: Battle Of the Five Armies when he thinks he has killed the Pale Orc, and watches the Orc through the ice, floating in the water beneath, that's what's happening in that scene). So, Murder On the Orient Express, the passengers are united in that second stage of reflection, the distinction between themselves as hunters and Ratchett as their prey has been blurred so all they see is their prize, the spilling of his blood (each one stabs him, so a lot of his blood is spilled) in compensation for Daisy's blood.We know that the train is black and black always symbolizes death: the "good death" is when we are dead to things of this world and alive to things of the next world, but the "bad death" is when we are alive to things of this world and dead to things of the next." The passengers, including Ratchett, have been alive to the things of this world, money, revenge, despair, etc., rather than trusting God, which is why we see three headlights on the train. Light symbolizes the divine light of illumination, and in the case of the Murder On the Orient Express, the "victims" of Ratchett have made themselves God--Father, Son and Spirit, the three headlights--and carried out justice themselves. However, we are the ones who are really the passengers, and the film is the "train," the vehicle of the message, so please keep that in mind below when we discuss the role the Orient Express will play in the film. Finally, please note the lower-center of the poster: there are clouds that are pink and gray; why? Those clouds are in the background, the train leaves them behind, but it suggests that those are the thoughts (the clouds,vapor) the passengers should be having, but have left behind them (since they are in the background of the poster). Pink is the color of love that has not been perfected, it's love that has not become the love of one's blood (it's fondness, a crush, deep adoration, but not, "I love you so much, I will spill my blood for you,") and that's okay because it's being tempered by the gray clouds: gray is the sign of the pilgrim, the sign of penance and the reality that one is not perfect, but is trying to make amends, in other words, what happened to Daisy was devastating, but God is just, and Ratchett won't escape God's punishment, in the meantime, I have to offer it up and trust God's plan,... and that's love, not the great, deep passionate love of the saints, but if we don't start somewhere, we will never get anywhere. 
Please excuse my long absence, I have been incredibly ill; I'm still sick, but recovering much better. So here is the plan (but as we all know, the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray): The Mummy post is nearly finished, however, due to the illness, I can't finish it without seeing it again; so Spiderman Homecoming is out tonight, I'm going to see it tomorrow, get that post up, then go see The Mummy again on Monday and then finish the post for that. I'm not looking forward to Spiderman, I think there is going to be pro-socialist issues introduced which we will see more of in upcoming Marvel films, but I am going to see it (Tom Hollande reportedly has a five-film deal with Marvel, so this film isn't just a bleep on the radar). IMPORTANT NOTE: THERE ARE TWO MID-END CREDIT SCENES FOR SPIDER-MAN HOMECOMING, so don't leave before you have seen both of them (there is a total of two scenes).  Now, if you have decided that you don't want to know anything about what is going to happen in Murder On the Orient Express, stop reading now, because that is all which is contained within the rest of this post.  We saw the first trailer for Kenneth Branaugh's upcoming mystery-drama Murder On the Orient Express in our last post, so here it is again to refresh your memory:
A "murder-mystery" is never a mystery, just as an "historical" film is never historical: a period film is never about just a period in history, it's always about the here and the now; likewise, a "murder-mystery" is never just about a murder, but a cultural phenomena which has occurred and everyone knows about it, but maybe no one is saying anything about it. Assuming you know what happens, then Murder On the Orient Express could stack up to be a very pro-socialist film,....
But the devil's always in the details.
Notice, if you will, that Ratchett's costume in the top image is almost all brown: brown symbolizes dirt, for we either humble ourselves because we realize that, from dust I came and to dust I shall return (the reason so many Holy Orders have brown habits) or dirt in the sense that the person is, actually, dirty, they have done something foul and they have become foul. We can say this is true of Ratchett's character by the leather jacket he wears: animals symbolize the animal appetites, the lower, base appetites (sex, money, drugs, addictions in general), so wearing the brown leather jacket (which is quite worn) suggests he is a man who has lived by his appetites for many years and those appetites have made him "dirty," so that his thoughts are dirty, too. Josh Gad's Hector MacQueen also wears a brown suit, but it also has quite a bit of gray to it; knowing that MacQueen works for Ratchett only as a means of revenge, we can deduce that he has become dirty, too, even while his thoughts (the gray hat on his head with the black bond compared to Ratchett's khaki hat with the darker brown bond). MacQueen's bag he holds, the worn-leather satchel, suggests MacQueen has "baggage" he has brought to his employment with Ratchett, and indeed, he has, for his father was the district attorney who prosecuted Ratchett but failed to convict him because of the corruption of the court, and MacQueen was personally a friend of Daisy's mother, Sonia. One last note on this costume in the top image, we also see Michelle Pfeiffer's Mrs. Hubbard wearing a brown leisure suit in the dining car the morning after the murder (because she has gotten herself dirty by her role in it) and we also see the princess, played by Judi Dench, wearing a fabulous mink coat, suggestive of her own animal appetites; since she was Daisy's godmother and friend to her mother, it could be that she had an especially savage appetite for revenge?
In the bottom image, we see Ratchett holding up what looks to be like an old-fashioned ransom letter. Because typography has become so advanced nowadays, I don't think criminals use the letters from newspapers and other publications to communicate with victims, but it's certainly a throw-back to see one. All we see is the word "WATCH," and because we are, presumably, watching the film as its viewers, we, too, are supposed to "watch" for what is really happening. 
Ratchett (Depp) is the villain of the film because he kidnapped a little girl, Daisy Armstrong; after the parents paid the ransom, Ratchett killed Daisy anyway; although Ratchett had been able to escape the justice system after he had been caught, and flee out of the country, Daisy's mother died of grief, her father killed himself out of grief, the nurse--who had been suspected of helping Ratchett--committed suicide (then was cleared of any wrong doing) and nothing happened to Ratchett,..... being a white male, it's easy to see the system working in favor of such a dastardly villain who was only out for himself and killed a minority (the little girl) to get his un-fair share out of life. IF this was going to be a pro-socialist film, this is certainly the way to choose these plot details and exploit them for all they are worth, however, this is the artistry which goes into a remake and why they can be so interesting: the details, and knowing Sir Kenneth, I think he's going to focus on some very different details to make a very different case.
Hercule Poirot is one of literature's most fastidious dressers: he exemplifies the perfected gentleman's toilette. We know that the name "Hercule" comes from the ancient, mythological hero Hercules, why? Because Hercules was a standard of masculinity, much like King Arthur, and what Hercules was to the male body, Poirot is to the human mind. So, in the trailer, when we hear the Professor (Dafoe) ask Poirot, "And who might you be?" and Poirot replies, "My name is Hercule Poirot, and I am probably the world's greatest detective," he has all ready said two things to absolutely drive Liberals insane: "Hercules" is a standard of masculinity which Liberals want to do away with (basically castrating all men, as in Wonder Woman) and then announcing that he is the best, at anything (even if he were like a champion kite-flyer, because he's the best at it, that is anathema to Liberals) because Liberals champion a culture of mediocrity and sameness among all people, no one is allowed to be "the best" at anything, so in this one statement of introduction, Poirot announces that he's a conservative, he's a man who holds to traditional values and abhors socialism (he's also Belgian, and the Belgians were refugees during World War II because Hitler had overrun Belgium, and Christie wrote that into some of his stories). So, Poirot is on our team, just by that one statement.
What else can we know about him? If you look closely at the top image (you can click on it to expand) you will see that he has several hairs out of place, cold and intense blue eyes, and, of course, that massive mustache.In all the other shots of Poirot, his hair is meticulously combed back with no hair out of place; because the head where our thoughts originate also symbolizes thoughts, we can deduce that the matter of this case has distressed him and he's having a difficult time understanding what has happened because his hair is so messed-up (for this character). Likewise, if you look closely at his collar and tie, they are messed up, like Poirot went to loosen it; why is this important? The neck symbolizes what leads us in life, what guides us (like a leash) so that Poirot has loosened his tie and collar suggests that he's contemplating that which has been leading him because now it's suffocating him, in other words, with what we have analysed so far, he feels overwhelmed. Poirot's eyes, however, are intense, shocking blue, the same "neon-blue" of the title, combining both wisdom and suffering; then there is his mustache: it's so big, it's bigger than his mouth. Now, typically, a man's facial hair symbolizes his animal appetites, because the civilized Roman men would shave their facial hair, whereas the barbarians would wear beards (no offense, gentlemen, this is about art, not about your personal fashion statements :) ). Given the location of the mustache, just above the mouth, which is also a symbol of appetites and what we crave, facial hair is, again, about appetites, and we can see this with Poirot: he has an appetites for that which his eyes see, and what does he say he sees? "I see evil on this train," so he has an appetite to overcome the evil he sees.  There is also a bit of hair on his chin. Chins are difficult to analyze, however, the saying, "Take it on the chin," comes to mind, and I think that might work with Poirot, namely, that he can and will take certain slights and insults on the chin, and not butt his head to win every single argument, rather, keeping his eye on the war to be won, and ignoring certain battles. If you doubt me, look behind Poirot: there are lights (the light of illumination) there is all that glass (symbolizing reflection) and there is the navy blue of the car cabin (the wisdom and suffering he has experienced is to be applied to this case) so we can be assured that we are correct in our deductions.
In the second image, we see Poirot wearing a big coat, walking in the snow (which we discussed in the caption for the poster at the top, the snow being the reflections of the passengers who made their "reflections" tangible in the killing of Ratchett) and the white smoke from the train (which can symbolize Poirot's own thought processes as he enters into the minds of the suspects and attempts to understand their motives). Why does he wear the coat? Well, of course it's cold, but that's the purpose of the bottom image, to demonstrate that it's not just about the weather (it's cold but he's not wearing a coat while he interviews the different passengers) but the back and shoulders symbolize the burdens we take upon ourselves, and Poirot is outside of the train because he has taken on the burden of solving the case. In the bottom image, he has still taken on the burden, however, he has dedicated himself to facing the "cold, hard truth" about the passengers and the victim.
Daisy Armstrong was an heiress, her family was exceedingly rich, and it was all going to go to her; Ratchett is connected (in some way) to the mafia, and each passenger, in spite of their backgrounds, social or financial positions, had a relationship to that very rich little girl, and when she died, they were all robbed of something by Ratchett. This introduces us to a brilliant exercise in chaos theory, for example: when there is a hurricane, we can just measure the hurricane by the wind forces, however, there is also the water and tide, the cloud formations, then there is the event of the landfall, damage and deaths,... when we hear "Hurricane Katrina," do we first think of 1800 UTC or 902 mbars and eyewall replacement cycles, or do we think of people stranded on their rooftops, dead bodies floating in the water, evacuees suffering and the desolation of New Orleans and other cities? The point is, science generally teaches us to limit definitions to measurements, but chaos theory reflects a greater reality in expanding definitions to be more inclusive of "extra-topical" circumstances involved in the events, and this is how Branaugh appears to be operating.
Michelle Pfeiffer plays Mrs. Hubbard, the mother of Sonia and Daisy's grandmother, so her "legacy" was really killed (daughter and grand-daughter) by Ratchett, and she really wants vengeance, which we can deduce by her gown she wears. Purple is the color of suffering, and she wears her suffering as she goes up to Ratchett in this hallway scene. Likewise, her arms are exposed, why? Because Sonia's and Daisy's last name was "Armstrong," and that is precisely what arms symbolize, our strength, so for Mrs. Hubbard, we see that she's exposing (the sleeveless gown) her strength (her arms) which is her suffering at Ratchett killing Daisy (the purple of the dress).
There's another important detail about Mrs. Hubbard: she's an actress. Mrs. Hubbard was a famous New York dramatic actress, and her status might be a message from Branaugh to actors in Hollywood about what they are doing in supporting socialism and helping to bring down the upper- and middle-classes in America.
We know that little Daisy Armstrong, as a small female, would symbolize the future of the "motherland," America (that will probably be a point in the case), and she was rich, so, like Poirot looking for clues, we, too, can find a clue that Daisy Armstrong was the future of the upper-class in America, and who is it holding the upper-classes for ransom, but basically murdering them anyway, in spite of so many demands being met? The socialists, the Liberals, the Left. It's not a coincidence that the organized Left is closely associated with the mafia (what would the mafia be without cities like Chicago and Detroit, run by Democrats?). The other important point is the listing of each suspects' financial/class designation: what on earth could a princess and a salesman possibly have in common? Their connection to the destruction of the future of the American upper-class. This leads us to our last point, for now, regarding this trailer,....
The Orient Express, the train itself, is definitely going to be a "character" in the film. In real life, the Orient Express not only set the standard for luxurious travel, but for exceedingly fast travel as well; because of this standard, other railway cars raised their standards and self-expectations, making the railway industry far more competitive, so that customers could get excellent service at an excellent price; this is capitalism, and the Orient Express is an excellent example of a "vehicle" of good capitalism. Note, when Poirot walks through the dining car, all the different social and economic classes, and they all dine together in one car: the princess doesn't scoff at being in the same dining car as the Butler, or the Missionary, and they salesman is able to afford to be in the same car as the count and professor; this is capitalism at its best, when it brings the classes together by offering goods and services everyone wants and everyone can afford.
It appears that most of the film takes place in the dining car, and this is important. Food and drink both symbolize that which we are meant to ingest and allow to nourish us (which is why I call this blog, The Fine Art Diner, I want you to "eat" the art, and take it in, digest it and savor it) but the food served isn't for the characters, it's for us, the audience, because we are the ones meant to "dine" on the clues of the film and be nourished by what the film makers offer us in its message because they want it to be substantial, not just fluff or sweet. 
Some writers mocked this trailer for employing Imagine Dragons' song Believer (you can read the lyrics to the song here), and without realizing the significance of the trailer, they wouldn't understand how brilliantly the song has been paired with the narrative. The song relates the suffering of the writer, but how the pain has been linked with everything in their life, and has made them a believer in the necessity of pain in life. Why is this important? We will see what Branaugh does with the expression of pain in the film and how each character chose to handle their pain resulting from the death of little Daisy Armstrong. But in the world today--especially America--how do we understand the Left and their "philosophy" of handling pain? Don't. The government is responsible to make sure we don't have any pain in life, and to help us when we do, because life is about being a victim, and the government is here to take care of us. I prefer to agree with Believer, rather than the Left, and it's safe to assume that Branaugh does as well.
We know that blue simultaneously symbolizes sadness, sorrow, depression as well as wisdom, because it's from our unfortunate experiences in life that we attain wisdom, which is the greatest treasure on earth because it comes at the highest personal cost to us: loss. Each character in the film has lost something, but who of them has embraced the wisdom coming from that loss? The black of course symbolizes death, not just Daisy's death, or Ratchett's death, but the death of each character participating in the murder, because it wasn't just a part of their self that died with Daisy, but a part of their self they killed in killing Ratchett.
Now, on another note, and I think this is the track which Branaugh is going to take this train ride on, IF Ratchett symbolizes socialism (wealth redistribution in getting the ransom for kidnapping Daisy, then killing Daisy as the future of the upper-class in America, then not being tried by the justice system, like everyone who committed crimes during the Obama Administration, as well as Obama and the Clintons literally getting away with murder, and then jeopardizing the financial welfare of everyone employed by the upper-classes which we shall see in the film) then Branaugh is stating, everyone of us, in the audience, need to do our part in killing socialism (each one of us stabbing Ratchett) because if we don't, we care complicit in the spread of socialism, the spread of socialism that, like the take-over of Belgium in World War II, drove out great men like Poirot from their homelands and made them wander.
To conclude, for the moment, we can be confident that Branaugh has a full slate on his agenda with this remake of Murder On the Orient Express, and that the project was picked to be a successful vehicle for that agenda; further, we, the audience, are meant to be "active participants" in the film, looking for clues just as our sleuth does, and as this case challenges his abilities, the film will challenge ours, too. But that is what will make it so satisfying,....
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner
This is a much more ethnically diverse cast than originally intended in the Christie story, or the film version of 1974. Penelope Cruz, for example, turns her character from a white, German woman into a Hispanic woman; Manuel Garcia-Rulfo provides us with a Cuban version of the Italian character Foscarelli and Leslie Odom Jr portrays Dr. Arbuthnot, which in the 1974 version, was not only played by Sir Sean Connery, but the character was a colonel rather than a doctor; similarly, William Dafoe's Gerhard Hardman was a detective/bodyguard, who has been turned into a professor; why? These are examples of Branaugh molding the story to fit our contemporary circumstances and reflect the agenda he has for the film. We can expect good things out of this one, it's one to which I'm really looking forward.