Mr Holmes

Aug. 5th, 2015 08:11 am
sebastienne: (notebook)
[personal profile] sebastienne
For such a beautiful, gentle film -- one that I adored every second of, and that managed to deal with memory loss in a way that I didn't find overwhelmingly upsetting -- this sure has left a sour taste in my mouth I've been thinking about it pretty constantly for the last 24 hours!

CN: relationship abuse, suicide, gaslighting, miscarriage

ETA: The below was written while very grumpy. It still stands up as analysis, but it's an analysis which assumes that the film is trying to be quite trite; whereas if it is, perhaps, trying to be a little more complex, then my perspective shifts somewhat.

On a superficial level, the film's core theme is memory loss; Holmes' struggle to recall the details of the case, his increasing inability to remember names. (It's a theme that's embellished with other little touches, like a boy's slow forgetting of his dead father, like the fact that when Watson appears in flashback, we see no face, hear no voice.)

This emphasis on the pathos of Holmes' memory loss makes the ending particularly jarring to me. Holmes knows - the film-makers know - how painful and difficult it is to struggle to get at the truth of something; so why on earth does the film end with him sending a letter full of falsehoods to Mr Umezaki? (Saying, utterly fictionally: "now I remember, I did meet your father; he became a secret agent which is why he couldn't contact you or your mother ever again.")

It's meant to be a kindness, I think; Holmes is meant to have learnt that kindness is sometimes superior to pure cold logic, the facts of the case.

As I expand on in Paging Doctor Sherlock House, this is certainly an overdue addition to the character; but what the film presents as 'kindness' is, to me, such a clear example of 'lying to achieve emotional manipulation' that it almost makes me wonder if Holmes has received the right message at all.

This becomes clearer when we look at how he received his idea of 'kindness'. He slowly remembers over the course of the film how he presented Ann with The Facts of The Case - "you were trying to make it look as if you were going to murder your husband; but in fact, it's suicide you're planning" - after which she pours the poison away, and he considers his job done.

So when she throws herself under a train a few hours later, he doesn't understand; and it's such an extreme experience for him that he leaves the profession due to feeling he's failed.

The message he finally gleans from this, 30 years later -- "I should have lied to her. Told her I'd run away to live with her. Anything it took".

I don't think I need to go into why this is not, in fact, a great response to someone expressing suicidal ideation, right?

Whereas the message that the audience takes from it - or at least, the message I took from it - is that Holmes strengthened her resolve a hundred-fold when he -- the notoriously unconventional super-brain, who doesn't care about what the social norms are but only about the Truth -- says: "You have a husband who loves you. Go back to him."

This is the husband who has admitted (without a hint of self-awareness) constant emotional abuse; he's dismissed her grief as hysteria, banned her from accessing music lessons or money, and eventually hired a detective to spy on her (but even so couldn't stop himself bursting into rooms being subtly surveiled, in order to shoutingly demand that his wife be 'produced').

And Holmes tells her to go back to him. THAT'S the unconventional super-brain's solution to the problem of her grief at first miscarrying twice then having the noose of control slowly tightened every time she did not do as she was told by magically becoming happy again.

Yes, 'patriarch surveils a woman he feels he owns' is style of case which features heavily in Conan Doyle; but never, I think, with such radically abusive overtones left non-commented-on by the text. (And after all, Conan Doyle was a strong advocate for divorce reform; perhaps it's a stretch from that to say that 'DTMFA' is a piece of advice that's available to Holmes; but at the very least going back to the husband with "so how about you take her pain seriously you absolute cockwomble" would surely be within the bounds of the genre?)

But, yes. Pretty film, stellar cast, glorious performances, Carter Burwell score... shame about the catastrophic point-missing that's presented as personal growth.

ETA: or, perhaps, the catastrophic point-missing IS personal growth... just (tragically) much too little, too late. Perhaps it's intentionally dubious, and I'm meant to be feeling "oh no sweetie that is not how you do the thing" rather than "oh GOD why is 'lying-to-people-for-their-own-good' such a pervasive cultural meme when it's so HORRIBLE"
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