As my stress levels go up so does the number of mystery films I watch. It’s the same impulse that drove me to conquer level after level on Candy Crush Saga when I was unemployed. (I’m on level 347. Are you intimidated? You should be.) In a word, simplicity. In any given day, I’m kvetching over at least seven personal concerns, and another nine that are global/socio-economic in nature. A good mystery takes all our diffuse anxieties and distills them into one big problem: MURDER. And, as Vanilla Ice once said, if there’s a problem -yo- I’ll solve it.
The most comforting subgenre of mystery has got to be the period piece. Wealthy Brits between the wars seemed incapable of going a season without offing a magnate or two. The clothes are pretty, the accents are fake, and the problems are far removed from my own. Give me a Marple or a Marlowe and I’m happy. Angela Lansbury played a dynamic Marple in the film version of The Mirror, Crack’d. It’s about aging actresses who hate each other, played by real aging actresses who hate each other Kim Novak and Elizabeth Taylor. It’s campy as hell, with Rock Hudson, Tony Curtis and Pierce Brosnan rounding out the cast.The most comforting scene is the big reveal, when we find out who the culprit is. It’s reassuring to know that someone has all the answers, or even that there are concrete answers to be had.
Interior, lavish country estate. England, the roaring 20s, or possibly the dirty 30s. A murder has occurred. Don’t trouble yourself too much over the corpse; they deserved everything they had coming to them. If they weren’t a billionaire industrialist dickhead, they were a shrill aging actress. Or at the very least someone who was rude to a maid in the first act. Their death is no great loss, only of consequence because it led the famous detective (or intrepid girl reporter) down a path of intrigue and suspense. Soon, all will be revealed. The guilty will be outed and punished, along with a few lesser offenders who will be jerked around for a while before being exonerated. Someone’s been fucking someone inappropriate, and for that the detective will punk them into thinking they’re going to be executed, for a few minutes. Wacky fun.
The drawing room scene is comforting for so many reasons. For one, silver tea service is just boss. More significantly, your standard issue mystery takes our messy and confusing world and renders it explicable. Nothing is insignificant. Everything happens for a reason. Every question has an answer, and relates back to the big question: whodunnit? And that question has an answer too: the guy with the thinnest moustache. Or possibly the blonde lady who cried too hard at the beginning.
Mysteryland is a parallel universe where the detective is the cleverest person alive, and the most moral. Even if the baddie is a genius, the detective of is still smarter, since they’re able to foil their evil machinations. Mysteryland 30s would never lead to our present day clusterfuck of a world. Mystery 30s sees Hitler coming a mile away. Mystery 30s has kids, who are adults in the 50s. Who know a misdirect when they see one, and call bullshit on McCarthyism. Mystery 30s ate pretty healthy, so they’re able to vote against Reagan in the 80s. No deregulation, no war on drugs. No wikileaks, because Mystery World is already all about transparency. And no AIDS epidemic in Africa, since any assholes in charge of Big Pharma would be murdered before they could get any serious lobbying in.
Like medieval morality plays, a mystery restores order to a chaotic world, and reassures us that someone all-knowing is looking out for us. I want to live in a world where someone knows best. I want to live in a world where justice is carried out. I want to live in a world where the bad are punished, the rude are murdered, and the good inherit the country estate once the dust settles. I want to go through the mirror, crack’d.