Murder on the Orient Express – Movie Discussion
While the movie is, on the surface, a murder mystery, at a deeper level it’s really about the growth (or perhaps “changing perspective” is more on point) of the main character, Hercule Poirot. He is a man of absolutes. He “sees the world as it should be, so the imperfections stand out.” In his perspective, “There is right. There is wrong. There is nothing in between.” By the end, however, his black and white world is dismantled. He finds the killer, but also finds compassion and understanding for what was done. “There was right. There was wrong. Then there was you. I cannot judge you for this,” he says. “What is justice here?”
What changed? How does a man like Poirot go from black and white, right and wrong—an absolutist standpoint—to one of moral relativism? In his words, “I have seen the fracture of the human soul... until one crime became many. I depend on order... but now, perhaps I am asked to listen to my heart. I have understood in this case that the scales of justice cannot be even weighed.”
Poirot’s journey is very much the journey of our modern world. The black and white moral absolutism we used to adhere to was too narrow. It didn’t allow for understanding, for gray, for complicated realities. So, the pendulum swung. The new generation rebels against it’s predecessor and goes to the other extreme until we are so sympathetic to people’s why we aren’t able to judge the what any longer. This is what happened to Poirot. He so understood the why of the murder, he couldn’t say that it was wrong.
The problem is in the extremes. Focusing on the what without understanding the why makes us intolerable and harsh. Focusing on the why without ever judging the what makes us a lawless and dangerous society. Someone in the movie said, “They’re not killers. They’re good people. They can be good again.” The thing is, they did kill. They may not do so again, but they did—in a personal and violent way, each sharing the knife and stabbing their victim. I would also like to point out the obvious issue of semantics here—that when you say someone “can be good again” you are also admitting they have lost that goodness. Yes, they can be good again. And yes, they aren’t killers in the sense that some people are, with a thirst for blood, but that doesn’t negate the fact that they did kill in cold blood.
The movie seems to want us to agree with Poirot. It wants us to come to a place of relativism, too. To agree that murder can’t be judged as such when it’s justifiable revenge. But this is craziness, because let’s face it, everything seems right to us in our own eyes. We always think our cause, our pain, our revenge...is justifiable. We are not good judges of our own hearts. For a godless people, this is all they have, perhaps. But for those of us who know the Lord, we have a different hope. We don’t have to fight for our justice, because He defends the oppressed. He takes responsibility for vengeance. He is a perfect and just judge who can perfectly weigh in the balance both the what and the why of our actions...and of everyone else’s. He will fight for us. We don’t have to do that. We only have to be obedient...and “do not murder” is a BIG point of obedience. It IS wrong. Just because something is understandable, does not make it right.
Poirot did, perhaps, need to learn some compassion. It was probably good for him to gain some understanding of why people were led to murder. That doesn’t, however, mean that he therefore had to justify their actions. As my elementary principal used to say, “You can explain it, but you can’t excuse it.”
This is what makes Jesus so astounding. His ability to say, “Has no one condemned you? Go and sin no more,” without becoming a moral relativist. He gives incredible grace because He understands, better than we do ourselves, our own weaknesses. And yet, his standards are perfect and unchanging. He judges sin and demands it be atoned for, not simply swept under the rug. He also, in His great mercy, love and understanding, decided to pay for it Himself so that we could go and sin no more. Like Poirot, He wanted us to be declared innocent. He wanted us to become good again. Unlike Poirot, however, He never tried to deny our sin. He didn’t cover it up or ignore it. He paid for it. He doesn’t say, You aren’t really killers, this was a justifiable and isolated incident. He does say, You are guilty. You should have trusted me instead of taking things into your own hands, but I’ve paid your debt. I love you. I want to wash your sin and stain in my blood so that you can be clean again.
We are like those passengers on the train. We have all sinned. We have all fallen short of the glory of God. And our sins have been found out. We are guilty. Thanks be to Jesus who was not puzzled or at a loss as to what to do with us. His world view wasn’t thrown into chaos by His understanding. Rather, He made a way for us to be made clean again and brought back into right standing with Himself and the law.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. – Romans 3:23-26
Questions for Discussion:
- How do you think the movie should have ended?
- Would you have found the killers innocent or guilty? Do you think their actions were justified? Why or why not?
- Do you think Poirot’s shift from absolutism to relativism mirrors our society and it’s shifting pendulum?
- How easy is it for you to justify your own actions?
- Do you agree or disagree with the statement that “no one is righteous” and/or “ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”?
- Whether its justifiable or not in your own mind, how does it make you feel that Jesus never denied your sins, but He did pay for them so that you could be washed clean?