Review – Mr. Holmes

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Today is Friday, June 19th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Myrna Brown.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: Sherlock Holmes grapples with a deeper sort of mystery.

CLIP: Watson had married and I was alone. In fact it was on the very day he left Baker Street that case which was to be my last begin to unfold.

Using the famous Baker Street sleuth as a protagonist for Mr. Holmes is a brilliant bit of shorthand. The story of an aging man, desperate to right the wrongs of his past before slipping into senility, requires only a character who’s devoted his life to dissecting observable data.

He might be a police officer or a military analyst. He might be a social scientist, or he might be the world’s most famous detective. But the facts of his case are common. Though he possesses a towering intellect, he has only realized near his life’s end that his talent for discerning surface motives has not helped him understand the deeper purposes that drive people. For all he sees, his logic cannot penetrate human nature. Not even his own.

CLIP: What happens when the bees die? Is this a metaphysical question? I mean do you mourn them? Oh I can’t say that I’ve ever mourn the dead bee. I concentrate on circumstance. How did he die? Who is responsible? Death. Grieving. Mourning. They’re all commonplace. Logic is rare. And so, I dwell on logic.

To dispense with the backstory of establishing such a character, the movie gives us simply: Sherlock Holmes.

As a result, we need know nothing more to feel immediate loss when we see the brilliant investigator’s greatness flicker. When he can’t remember the name of the 10-year-old boy who lives with him or the name of a friend he’s been corresponding with for years. For the first time, the mystery Sherlock must solve has nothing to do with pinning the guilty to the wall and leaving them wriggling on a pin. Rather, to presume further on T.S. Eliot’s famous poem, he must spit out the butt ends of his own days and ways.

He must dig into his fading memory to discover what failure in his final case caused him to lose his bravado and abandon the world to keep bees by the sea.

CLIP: I didn’t know you wrote stories. Oh yes, Dr. Watson, he was the writer. Well I borrowed Mom‘s key and went into the study and there it was. And how much did you read? Just to where you stopped. It was a good part too, a man comes to Baker Street, you say you’ve come about your wife. How could you tell? When you are a detective and a man comes to visit you it’s usually about his wife.

Ian McKellen has an enormous task. He must imbue his Sherlock with enough of the qualities we’ve seen in dozens of incarnations before that we will thrill to his arch quips and brisk feats of deduction.

Yet we must still empathize with an old man increasingly lost in his world. McKellen succeeds in spades, charming us in one moment with his crotchetiness and breaking our hearts with his fear and weakness in another. 

CLIP: It was my last case and if I brought it to a successful conclusion I wouldn’t have left the profession and spent 35 years here in this place away from the world. I chose exile for my punishment, but what was it for? I must’ve done something terribly wrong.

While the story will be too slow for younger viewers, it’s smart, funny, and appropriate for all ages. A single crude pun earns the PG rating.

Sherlock’s new housekeeper and her son Roger have something to teach him for once. Namely, that what average folks need more than answers from the cleverest among them is someone to share in their suffering.

When Sherlock hears Roger ape his elitism toward his illiterate mother he realizes that callousness toward others’ feelings is not a badge of brilliance but the mark of a stunted soul.

CLIP: She wants me to be a boot black. Roger. She wants me to do what she does. There is no shame in what I do. You complain enough about it, always going on about how hard things are and how you wish you had it better. She can barely read. Go after her!

He also learns that mourning, commonplace as it may be, is blessed as it draws our hearts toward one another.

It’s no spoiler to reveal that in one of the closing scenes, Sherlock lifts his hands in a prayer-like manner . He seems to release the souls of those he’s loved and lost. It’s a generic gesture, with nothing to suggest any specifically Christian faith. If anything, as Sherlock is inspired by events he witnesses in Japan, it has an Eastern undertone. But it’s clearly intended to demonstrate an emotional journey we have never seen Sherlock take.

CLIP: I had successfully deduced the facts of her case but I had failed to grasp their meaning. Never had I felt such an incomprehensible emptiness within myself. Only then did I begin to understand how utterly alone I was in the world.

The great human mind is humbled by the infinitely greater mystery of heaven, and falls to its knees in the face of it.

(Photo/Mr. Holmes, Amazon Prime)

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