Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes

Directed by Guy Ritchie
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong
Written by Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham, Simon Kinberg, and Lionel Wigram

I liked the new Guy Ritchie version of Sherlock Holmes. Ritchie successfully managed the critical task of any reimagining of a familiar character or story: maintain the character's [or story's] essence whilst expressing that essence in the current idiom.

This task is prominent in movies at the moment, because so many movies are remakes or refashionings of older stories. I would say movies, but in this case, the original was entirely textual, so the task is not always just making an old movie with modern special effects.

A recent example that was done poorly was Beowulf. I really, really hated that movie. The reason is that the essence of the story was completely corrupted, in what I believe was a deliberate fashion. I suppose subverted is the proper word. A recent example that did this task well was 300. I think the critics who complained about the comic book style of the movie and historical inaccuracy miss the point. 300 is a good retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae not because it is the best chronicle of history or because of tasteful direction, but because it can make a young man feel about that pivotal battle the same thing young men have felt for 2500 years.

Aristotle saw poetry [meaning entertaining art] as part of logic. The art of poetry is to use the emotions upon reason in order to convince. Sometimes Aristotelians make the mistake of seeing poetry as an imperfect form of reasoning because it does not attain the perfect form of a syllogism, but poetry in this extended sense is really one of the most critical arts for human beings, because poetry can be used to reach a wider audience than a lengthy and dry argument could, and even to communicate truths that bare reason alone struggles with.

Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes maintains the feel of possibility and adventure that was present in Victorian London, along with Holmes Olympian powers of reasoning. This Victorian London even has elements of steampunk in it, with contraptions and techniques actually invented later but technologically possible earlier in brass and steam rather than silicon. Holmes knowledge of jiujitsu is not among these, Doyle mentioned an English variant known as Bartitsu in The Adventure of the Empty House that was popular in that time.

Even the secret order we find in the movie had its real world counterpart, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, although they were in reality about as secret as the Lions Club. Victorian London really was an uncanny place where logic and mysticism uneasily coexisted. Ritchie nailed this, and I love the movie because of it. In many ways, the XIXth century was just plain more exciting and fast moving than even the XXIst, and this movie can make you feel this even if you don't know it.

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