Friday, July 31, 2015

Mr. Holmes

The Curious Incident of the Detective in Twilight
"The Conscience of Sherlock Holmes" ("I Haven't a Clue...")

Inspector Gregory: 'Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?'
Sherlock Holmes: 'To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.'
Inspector Gregory: 'The dog did nothing in the night-time.'
Sherlock Holmes: 'That was the curious incident.'
"Silver Blaze"

'I confess that I have been blind as a mole, but it is better to learn wisdom late than never to learn it at all.' 
Sherlock Holmes
"The Man with the Twisted Lip"

In Neil Gaiman's "Sandman" comic series, there is a Library of Dreams that contains literary works that were never written and/or completed and basically, only exist in the authors' dreams. The "one-day-I'll write..." library. One of those books sitting on the shelf of the Never-Was is a collection of stories by Arthur Conan Doyle published under the title "The Conscience of Sherlock Holmes." Gaiman, interviewed, particularly liked "The Conscience of Sherlock Holmes" because "Holmes doesn't have a conscience." He has a sense of justice, of course, which sometimes—rarely—runs counter to the letter of the law (and when it does, it peeves him no end). But, for the most part, he does not let personal feelings interfere with his thought processes. As he explains in "The Sign of Four," "the emotional qualities are antagonistic to clear reasoning." Those "emotional qualities" are best left to others as sources of motivation, incitements and provocations to be discovered, but avoided by the discoverer, lest they cloud the facts.
And so, Mr. Holmes, based on Mitch Cullens' "A Slight Trick of the Mind."  It sees Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) in his waning days, weakened and enfeebled by age, the mind slightly dulled, for which the Great Detective travels the world for some inhibition; royal jelly no longer works, but a trip to post-WWII Japan promises a concoction called "prickly ash." He returns to his Sussex home, tended to by a housekeeper Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney) and her son Roger (Milo Parker).  As they tend to him, he tends to his bees, but he is troubled, haunted. When the mind of Sherlock Holmes is at rest, disaster is sure to follow.  But, his trip has disquieted him and he is not sure why.  
To exercise his mind, he begins to write about his last case (dissatisfied as he is by the account written by his dear friend, Dr. Watson) and in the writing, memories begin to churn, creating a disturbing feeling of disorientation and confusion.  This is aggravating to Mrs. Munro, who already finds Holmes insufferable and worries about the influence the old man has on her son, who is fascinated by Holmes and his storied past. 
But, what is the connection between that last case, his final bow, and the trip to Japan? To Holmes, nothing.  Not in detail, particulars, even country of origin are they similar. But one triggered the other, and Holmes must rely on the most unreliable of witnesses—his own failing memory. This is the Sherlock of old age, not the Sherlock of old. To hear this one tell it, it never was: the deerstalker hat ("an embellishment of the illustrator"); the meerschaum pipe ("I prefer cigars, actually"). He still does "the parlour trick" of dissecting a human being instantaneously from their appearance to their amazement or shame or anger.  And does he regret?  "So much!"
Holmes' last case: surveillance and a tell-tale clue about window-shopping.
Conscience.  His last case was for a client (Patrick Kennedy) who suspected his wife (Hattie Morahan) of...something. She had changed. Yes, she's suffered two miscarriages, but she's acting suspiciously, and Holmes, suspecting "something" nefarious goes on the hunt, observing her day's routine—checking on her husband's will, forging checks, and, last but certainly not least, buying poison. The client must certainly be in danger of a mad housewife's revenge.   
One would deduce. And Holmes finds his instincts right...and wrong.  The aftermath of the case leaves him bereft, back to drugs, and it is only the intervention of Watson, long since gone from the residence at Baker Street (there's a surprise about that, too) that Holmes recovers enough that he can make the decision to retire to Sussex—his own exile from the chaos of the world he could no longer understand, let alone explain.
Aftermath: Watson finds Holmes—"I chose exile."
Bees, however, are easy. They're orderly, unemotional, solid workers, and completely loyal to a Queen. The colony seems to be dwindling a bit after his Japan trip, but he will have to solve that problem later. In the meantime, there are these memories and the Japan trip to solve, and if the tale isn't as snappy as a Doyle yarn, it might be due to the fallibility of the detective who, ultimately, has himself as a client. 
Director Condon keeps things moving quickly and, fortunately, stays out of the way. He is at his best when his directorial hand is invisible, undetectable, trusting enough of the material (and himself) that he doesn't get too fancy with it. He's worked with McKellen before (Gods and Monsters) and Linney (Kinsey) and they are both up to the task—McKellen doesn't have the usual problem with Holmes that actors do (Jeremy Brett and Robert Stephens were both of the opinion that Holmes was "an empty vessel" that would suck the life out of an actor), tasked as he is with playing the same character at two stages in his life 35 years apart, the challenge is to extrapolate the old man with the younger, and so Holmesian tics and theatrics go by the wayside. Nothing outwardly theatrical is betrayed, but gradually and internally, the truth is revealed and a motivation is not realized, but instead created. And the Great Detective who, at one point in the film, says "I haven't a clue," solves his own mystery.

A good Holmes film, not a classic, but a good one.
At one point, the elderly Holmes watches a movie made of one of his exploits.
Who plays Holmes?  Nicholas Rowe, who played Young Sherlock Holmes in 1985.
Deucedly clever, that.

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