Saturday, October 17, 2015

'Mr. Holmes' Wizens the Iconic Character; Takes a Different, Heartfelt Approach

Sherlock Holmes is a pop culture icon.  Ever since the character’s original run at the hands of master storyteller Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a fervent following has obsessed on him through the decades.  Thus, like Batman, he has transcended his original medium and depiction, and has been adapted or reinterpreted in a numerous variety of ways across different media.

I’ve loved Sherlock Holmes ever since I picked up my first Sherlock Holmes volume (I started in the middle of the chronology; it was Return of Sherlock Holmes) as a kid.  Since then, not only did I love the original literature (I have every volume in my library/collection) written by Doyle, but also have sought anything that has Sherlock Holmes on it – screen adaptations, non-canon stories written by other authors, reinventions, etc.  Though I didn’t get to like all of them, Sherlock Holmes possesses an inherent charm that made me appreciate most non-Doyle interpretations of the character, even the outlandish ones like The Asylum’s Sherlock Holmes.

Mr. Holmes is simply another reinterpretation of the famed fictional detective – and an endearing one at that.  Set in 1947, the movie features a long-retired, senile 93-year-old Sherlock Holmes (as expected, it’s another great performance from Sir Ian McKellen) as he struggles to remember the details of his last case – a case that he considers so great a failure that it had compelled him to completely abandon the life of a detective.  He desperately wants to recall what it was all about so that he might personally write its complete, actual account before he dies.  Meanwhile, he develops a paternal fondness for Roger (Milo Parker), his housekeeper’s bright son, and shares his fascination of bees with him and engages him in intellectual discussions.  As Roger spends more time with the brilliant Holmes, he grows more and more dissatisfied with his proletariat life and tension develops between him and his poorly-educated mother (Laura Linney).

This isn’t the first time I encountered a depiction of Sherlock Holmes in an advance elderly age (in a ludicrous anniversary issue of Detective Comics, Batman teamed-up with a 130-year-old Sherlock Holmes.  I kid you not!), but it’s probably the most satisfyingly exploration of such concept.  Mr. Holmes doesn’t have the thrills of the traditional Watsonian narrative, nor does it have the flair, fun, and action of modern reinventions like Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes movies or BBC’s Sherlock TV series.  It does however remains a unique and fascinating approach on the mythology that every professing Sherlock Holmes fan needs to see.  It explores a feeble, deteriorating Sherlock Holmes who has lost most of the potency of his much celebrated, incredible mental powers, and, at that point of his life, has grown reflective and sentimental, fully recognizing the superior worth of human companionship and kindness over cold logic.

Mr. Holmes isn’t the typical Sherlock Holmes crime drama.  Those who expect it to be such are going to be disappointed.  It instead delivers a heartfelt, philosophical meditation on the value of human connections, and cleverly uses Sherlock Holmes – who has made the reputation of someone that prefers to detach himself from human emotions and bond, which he thinks can hinder him in functioning as a cold analytical machine – to serve as its character study.  In this context, this Sherlock Holmes movie proves to be a beautiful and pleasing one.

Miscellaneous musings:
  • Even if the movie is all about Holmes embracing his humanity (uh, SPOILERS?), I still felt that the last part where he conducts a Japanese spiritual practice, something he picked up from his recent visit to Hiroshima, was something too out-of-character.
  • It was easy to deduce (SPOILERS, by the way) that the bees had nothing to do with the stings on Roger and the ensuing allergic reactions.  It was shown earlier in the film that he was stung by a bee with no ill effects manifesting.  And there was some subtle but evident foreshadowing beforehand about the wasps being the real villains.
  • Sir Ian McKellen makes a great Sherlock Holmes.   In a way, I wish the whole movie turned out to be about an old Sherlock Holmes actually working on his last case.  So I totally adored the flashbacks of Holmes’ last case.  They were very compelling sequences.  Sir Ian really rocked as an elderly but still functioning Sherlock Holmes.

  • That all said, I want nothing more but for Christmas to come already so that we can finally see Sherlock’s first special.  Sorry, Sir Ian, but Benedict Cumberbatch is simply the definitive Sherlock Holmes right now.

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