A funny thing happened on the way to the movies this week, or rather when I got to the box office. The movie I had intended to see, Me, Earl and The Dying Girl was not being shown as advertised online for that night. My friend Tim had just told me I wanted to see that movie and post a blog about it. As I’d driven across town to this venue and there was a group of women meeting at my house, I decided I’d still make it a one guy’s night out and bag a different flick, Mr. Holmes.
I’m glad I did. No mistakes. This crime drama mystery directed by Bill Condon and based on the 2005 novel A Slight Trick of the Mind written by Santa Fe’s own Mitch Cullin features an aging Sherlock Holmes (played by Ian McKellen, Lord of the Rings “Gandolph”) living in retirement with his house keeper Mrs. Munro (played by Laura Linney) and her young son Roger (played by Milo Parker).
The film follows a 93-year-old Holmes living in his country estate, struggling to recall the details of his final case while his mind begins to deteriorate.
In 1947, having just returned from a trip to Hiroshima, he starts to use jelly made from the prickly ash plant he acquired there in an effort to improve his failing memory. Unhappy about his ex-partner Watson's account of Holmes' last case, he hopes to write his own account, but is having trouble recalling the details. As he spends time with Roger, showing him how to take care of the bees in the farmhouse's apiary, Holmes comes to appreciate his curiosity and intelligence and develops a paternal liking for him.
Over time, Roger's gentle prodding helps Holmes to remember the case (shown in flashbacks) and why he retired from the detective business.
The movie was based on autobiographical material from author Cullin’s life as a boy who cultivated a relationship with a kindly and learned neighbor who gave him access to one of the most complete collections of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s works.
Without revealing more of the plot, as I’d hate to spoil it for you, my focus here is multi-faceted. On the one hand it is a story that illustrates how genius can be a blessing but also a curse when combined with what I’ve spoken about throughout this blog, “men’s isolation.” The great rational and deductive thinking ability of the Holmes character is thrown into relief when viewed as a wall between he and the characters reaching out to him for human connection and emotional resolution. His own emotional intelligence is portrayed as crippled but not beyond recovery at age 93 and it is the boy Roger who creates that bridge back to his own deeper humanity and personal redemption.
The movie’s striking portrayal of the aftermath of destruction in Hiroshima is timely as the recent 70th anniversary of the dropping of the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan has just passed with continued mixed feelings about war, destruction and peace on a global scale. Through no intentional effort on my part, the home I’ve now lived in for four years happens to have a large picture window in the living room that perfectly frames the town and laboratories of Los Alamos, home of the famous and infamous Manhattan Project. The lights from that ancient volcano mountainside twinkle and dazzle us at night.
As I further reflect on the slowly unfolding plot of Mr. Holmes
I wonder to what extent the inner workings of elder Sherlock’s heart as it begins to open becomes the hologram for our society’s own gradual collective opening to the pain and suffering we believe we both avoided and collided with simultaneously.
And if prickly ash is no guarantee we can remember what we’ve done and not repeat history maybe this film can help us to bridge between our rational and deductive powers to create and destroy and our hearts that can mend and heal.
I heartily recommend viewing Mr. Holmes. But don’t trust the internet (or just plain ole human error?) Call the venue first to make sure it’s playing.
P.S. Uncannily, the author is traveling to Italy in September to support a training of Japanese who are leading the passion movement in Japan. Must be about the Axis of Goodness, a new term you just saw here.