Tuesday 24 March 2009

Sliding Doors

I really enjoyed Sliding Doors, a ten year old movie starring Gwyneth Paltrow and John Hannah. The premise is fascinating: that so much in life depends on mere chance. In the story, everything hinges on whether Paltrow’s character catches a Tube train, or is seconds too late to prevent the train doors sliding shut in her face.

Sliding Doors is a romantic comedy, with a sharp script (the writer and director was Peter Howit, whom I remember as Joey Boswell in the Scouse comedy ‘Bread’) and winning performances from Paltrow and the other cast members as two divergent stories are played out in highly watchable fashion. But I found it not just good entertainment, but also rather thought-provoking.

It’s the premise that fascinates me. Years ago, I saw an Alan Ayckbourn play (can’t recall the name without checking) which featured a series of variations on a basic story-line. The reviews of Sliding Doors that I’ve seen refer to a Polish film called Blind Chance which had a similar idea, and even a Lord Dunsany play from the 1920s on essentially the same ‘road not taken’

But what about crime fiction? It seems to me that the concept would adapt very effectively to our genre. Surely it’s already been done. But I can’t think of a single example – is anyone reading this blog able to come up with any?


Maxine Clarke said...

I liked that movie, too. And brilliant challenge! I can't think of any examples either, though like you I feel sure it must have been done.....The nearest I can think of just now is Ira Levin's A Kiss Before Dying, but that isn't a correct answer to your challenge, by any means. Will have to keep pondering!

Philip Amos said...

This touches upon a matter of particular interest to me, Martin, for I've argued in another context that contingency is a factor not enough taken into account in historical studies. Indeed, the tendency has been to present the course of events in such a way that they seem rather to play out with what appears to be a sort of inevitability. Some approaches to the historical past have, of course, been frankly deterministic. But, anyway, as soon as I read your final paragraph I thought, "Ruth Rendell, of course." Contingency is a leitmotiv that runs through all of her non-Wexford novels to some degree, and in some cases is the very foundation: A Judgement in Stone, The Keys to the Street, A Sight for Sore Eyes, Adam and Eve and Pinch Me, et al.

And apart from Rendell, what if Guy Haines had missed that train and never met Charles Bruno?

gryphondear said...

I have seen Sliding Doors, which does indeed have an interesting premise.

Although it is not a crime film per se the 1998 film, Lola Rennt (English title is Run, Lola, Run) has much the same premise of "what would happen if this rather that that?"

This film is much more energetic than Sliding Doors. There is a grocery store robbery, attempted bank robbery and assorted mayhem. Lola (played by Franka Potente) spends much of the film charging down the streets as fast as her legs can carry her.

Elizabeth Foxwell said...


I think a Sliding Doors-like example might be Dennis Potter's _The Singing Detective_.

seana graham said...

I can't, but that doesn't mean there hasn't been one. What I wonder, though, is whether there's an inherent problem for mystery writers because readers tend to want there to be many possibilities but only one solution in a mystery, whereas this concept seems to be the opposite.

(I really liked Sliding Doors as well.)

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, everyone, for these great comments.
Maxine, suffice to say that A Kiss Before Dying is one of my favourite thrillers. A real classic.
Philip, I agree that contingency is a key element with Rendell - Eunice's illiteracy in A Judgement in Stone is a good example. Though Rendell hasn't addressed the issue as directly as in Sliding Doors.
Gryphondear - I don't know the film, but will now look out for it.
Elizabeth, I only saw bits of The Singing Detective when it was first on, so I'll have to refresh my memory.
Seana, it does interest me that an idea pregnant with possibilities for crime writers seems to have been used only obliquely, as far as I know.

Xavier said...

"Years ago, I saw an Alan Ayckbourn play (can’t recall the name without checking) which featured a series of variations on a basic story-line."

Is that "Intimate Exchanges"? It was made into a two-part film by Alain Resnais in 1993.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Xavier. I think Ayckbourn did it at least twice - once with 'The Norman Conquests' and then again with the play I can't recall.