Friday, February 19, 2016

"Mr. Holmes" (2015)

This 2015 film gives us some of the most impressive acting of the year in a story that is not quite what we look for from Sherlock Holmes. Sure, we get a mystery, but it is the mystery of what has happened to his memories. We are seeing Sherlock Holmes surrender to senility. And that is something that might happen to him if he were a real person, but do we really want that?

The way the story is told with its multiple levels of flashback are effective in both raising the level of mystery and highlighting the way Holmes has deteriorated. Both of those things represent great filmmaking. But when you boil the stories down to their core what are you left with?

1. Holmes is going to die of senility, and wants to set the record straight on his last case. He can’t quite remember what happened, but knows the way Watson wrote it was wrong.

2. His last case was a failure, not because he didn’t figure it out, but because the cold-hard facts ultimately led to death. A death he could have prevented had he been less of a slave to the truth.

3. While trying to improve his memory to retell his last case, he discovered that a family in Japan was hurt when the father abandoned them. That man used his name and reputation to justify the abandonment.

In the end Holmes learns to open himself up to the people around him. Namely, he takes on a more familiar relationship with his housekeeper and her son. That is a good development. He also decides that protecting people from harsh truths with lies is a good thing and makes up a story about the Japanese father to lessen the blow of the truth for the son. That is played out as a good development too.

So, in conclusion: lie to people to make them feel better and help them avoid harsh truths that they need to face. Wait, what? The only reason Holmes ends up a better character at the end of this film is because he remembered a truth from which Watson was shielding him. Facing harsh truths and changing as a result of them is one of the most important things about being the people we need to be.

In spite of that last misstep, this story is still one worth seeing. The acting is incredible. Just don’t go buying into the message. As it turns out, Holmes may be smart but he is far from wise.

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