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Correct the million misconceptions...

So, I just came home from seeing Mr. Holmes.

I look side-eye at you, Mr. Holmes. Yes I do.

Generally, the film is beautifully shot and acted (though I also side-eye you, Mr. Condon, for all the 180 degree establishing shots that zoom in on the focal character. It's a nice trick, but felt a bit annoying the third or fourth time, especially since it's mostly there to be a nice trick, as far as I could tell, and had no thematic purpose).  I didn't love any of the characters, but I didn't hate them either.

Fundamentally, though, this film and the book it is adapted from are written by people who think Sherlock Holmes is a destructive fantasy.  A friend of mine has said that Sherlock Holmes is an Enlightenment, rationalist fantasy. He is the dream that man, by his reason, can understand, control, and perhaps better the world he lives in.

Mr. Holmes looks at that vision and finds it terrible.

As a Christian, I believe that this world ultimately doesn't make complete sense, because it's broken. I love detective fiction because it pries at that fact - a crime has been committed, a murder, a theft, something is out of harmony, and the detective's whole reason to exist is to attempt to restore that harmony. Because the world itself is broken, full restoration is impossible - but I believe a good detective novel should end with a measure of harmony restored.

This film looks at the entire construction of Sherlock Holmes, man of reason, science, passion for justice, loyal friend - and finds him insufficiently interesting to write a story about. Instead, they construct a semi-realistic world in which Holmes has to react to his friend's fictionalization of him (an interesting conceit that isn't fully realized, sadly). He smilingly contradicts the "million misconceptions" about himself - the deerstalker, the pipe (digression - I think McKellan's anti-smoking views might have influenced the film here, as Holmes doesn't smoke once in the entire film), even the deductions are all revealed to be fantasy.

In the end, the film decides that fiction is better than reality if it lets people connect with each other rather than be alone.  Sadly, I do not believe connection can be based upon a lie, so it falls flat for me.  So, despite lovely performances from McKellan and Linney, a fine child acting performance, and the always radiant Hattie Morahan as the woman who shapes the last three decades of Holmes's life despite only speaking to him for a quarter of an hour, the film will not make a very significant dent in the Holmesian legend.  It rejects the elements that make Sherlock Holmes popular without telling a particularly compelling story to take their places. The fine character work doesn't make up for the many missed thematic opportunities, and the general air of the production is handsome, but distant. There's no true love for the source material or the community which loves it here, and I think that will tell against it in the shadow it will fail to cast.


Interesting review. Thank you. You're voicing something I've not seen in any other review.

I'm reminded of this (Steven Moffat speaking about the mythology of Doctor Who):

Moffat: You do get a thrill [when you throw in a reference], I think it’s a legitimate thrill. I do worry sometimes that I gotta crush the inner fanboy at times. And who doesn’t want to crush a fanboy now and then? I also think even for the new audience, you’re alluding to a whole other part of the mythology that you don’t know and that’s quite exciting. “Wow, he has a granddaughter, what the hell’s that about?” That’s quite exciting.

What in the hell actually is it about? I mean, what is that about? He has a granddaughter called Susan. How did that fit in on Gallifrey? Here’s Romana, here’s Andra… this is Susan. But you know, that’s the thing, throwing in those things, I think alludes to a wider mythology that everyone is getting.

When I watched the first Spider-Man movies that came out, it was obvious that they were movies made by fans. I could sense that there was a whole other world, there, that I didn’t know about. I didn’t get any of the references but I got that they were there, and it was quite exciting.

I have never read a single Sherlock story, but watching the show I can sense the web of mythology that they play on, the way they are thrilled to be playing with the whole world. And most stories of this sort, are now told by fans. I didn't realise that Mr Holmes was a different sort of creature.
Mr. Holmes is definitely a different creature - it's not a bad sort of creature, but it's not interested in being about the Sherlock Holmes that has created a legion of fans for almost a century and a quarter. I think, as a a result, it will fade into the background of the Holmes narrative in the cultural consciousness (like the Guy Ritchie films), occasionally being remembered because of the actors, but not really changing anyone's deeply held conceptions of the characters. And I don't think non-fans who are introduced to Holmes by this story will be compelled to seek out more - there's such a conscious and explicit distance (I almost want to say disdain, but it's not quite that distinct) from the originals and all of the community which has built up around the originals that there's simply no incentive to seek them out based on this portrayal.