Friday, February 3, 2012

Sherlock Holmes 103

And last but not least, Robert Downey Jr.!

While Brett's Holmes is traditional and suave, and Cumberbatch's Holmes is fresh and smart, Downey Jr.'s Holmes is exciting and quirky.

As far as accuracy goes, Downey Jr. is a far cry from the original material. But that's okay. Like Cumberbatch, Downey Jr. provides an original perspective of the infamous sleuth that is as fresh as it is entertaining.

The two films Downey Jr.'s Holmes has appeared in are known for their action-packed sequences and buckets of humor. They're very audience-friendly, so someone who has no prior knowledge can watch and enjoy just as much as any devoted fan could.

So if it isn't blatantly obvious already, I'll outline a few aspects of Downey Jr.'s Holmes that make him unique from a traditional Holmes.

For starters, he doesn't look the part. While Holmes is supposed to be tall and lanky with sharp eyes Downey Jr. is of average height and build with big brown eyes. He's probably the only Holmes who is shorter than his Watson.

His relationship with women is also a far cry from the traditional Holmes. The best example, of course, lies in Irene Adler.

Not only does Downey Jr.'s Holmes seem to harbor romantic feelings for her, but it's an established fact that they used to be an 'item'. Meaning, they had 'relations'.

Sherlock Holmes is a creature guided and ruled by logic. He has no time or patience to mess with love. Honestly, folks, I wouldn't be surprised if the traditional Holmes had died a virgin.

Cumberbatch's Holmes, in dealing with a sexually scandalous case, declares, "Sex doesn't alarm me."
To which his brother replies, "How would you know?"

Brett's Holmes sees women as factors in an equation. The only joy he derives from them are the problems they bring him to solve. Later, upon concluding a case of a very pretty young lady, Watson remarks, "What an incredibly attractive woman."
To which Brett replies, "Was she? I hadn't noticed..."

Downey Jr., on the other hand, winds up handcuffed butt naked to a hotel bed with nothing but the world's smallest throw pillow to preserve his dignity, all thanks to Irene.

Hot damn.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle may have rolled in his grave but Jeremy Brett probably did somersaults in his.

Several literary experts and psychologists have agreed that Holmes was likely gynophobic (look it up). My opinion? While the traditional Holmes remains remarkably genteel and respectful toward women, he repeatedly expresses his agitation at how unpredictable and untrustworthy they can be. Basically--the poor boy can't figure them out, so he keeps a wide berth. And if there's anything that will drive Holmes up the wall, it's a problem that he can't solve.

Another key difference in Downey Jr.'s Holmes is his ability to defend himself. Hands down, if I had to take any Sherlock into a fight it would be him. Or, rather, I would just stand back and watch in awe while he opened up a can of whoop ass in slow motion.

A traditional Holmes has notable skills in both boxing and fencing, but Downey Jr.'s Holmes is practically a ninja.

Another aspect that differs from tradition is Downey Jr.'s fear of horses. He flat-out refuses to ride one in 'A Game of Shadows', explaining, "They're dangerous at both ends and crafty in the middle. Why would I want anything with a mind of it's own bobbing about between my legs? I shall require a bicycle, thank you very much. It's 1891!"

The traditional Holmes has no fear of horses. Want proof? Here's Jeremy Brett's Holmes comfortably astride said creature:

(And if you've seen Brett's Holmes do it, you can bet your life it rings true with the books.)

But it's okay. Downey Jr.'s Holmes' fear of horses is both appropriate and fitting for his spin on the character, plus, it provides a hilarious scene amidst some very dark material. And, like I said, these films are loaded with humor. This is mostly due to Downey Jr.'s particular brand of comic relief. As a result, his Holmes is one of the funniest yet.

Downey Jr.'s relationship with Jude Law's Watson is also noteworthy for being a bit different than usual. Remember that picture earlier?:

Downey Jr.'s Holmes is very human and vulnerable, so his behavior regarding Watson's marriage is both understandable and relatable. Downey Jr. only knows and cares about what's going on in his immediate life. He has little interest in anything outside of his work, so it's no surprise that he sees Watson's departure as an end to their relationship.

Traditionally, Holmes doesn't approve of marriage in general. Brett's Holmes once mistakenly assumed a client was married:

"And how is the dear wife?"
"I'm not married, Holmes."
"....How wise."

Holmes has no relationship with Watson's wife (Mary) in the books aside from when he's helping her find her missing father. I've always thought that was a little odd considering that Watson was practically a brother to him. So I have no complaints when it comes to Downey Jr.'s relationship with Mary, strained as it is.

BBC's 'Sherlock' has yet to introduce Mary, and the series Jeremy Brett starred in only featured Mary for the episode where Holmes helped her track down her father.

So even though the Holmes and Mary relationship is virtually nonexistent in the books, the Downey Jr. version is more realistic to me, so I prefer it.

Jude Law fits Watson's physical description and mannerisms very well, though Watson certainly wasn't meant to be a stud. I mean, just look at him! Not that I'm complaining. This is one instance of botched continuity where I'll gladly look the other way. (I recently read an interview where Robert Downey Jr. explained people had taken to calling Jude Law 'Hotson' around the set. Who wouldn't?)

One of Waton's best qualities is his unwavering trust in Holmes. Law captures this very well, despite all the times he doubts Downey Jr.'s sanity. It's his unwavering trust, accompanied by his addiction to the thrill of the chase, that allows him to always follow Holmes to Hell and back again.

Law provides the perfect yin to Downey Jr.'s yang, and the result is an unabashed bromance.

And, finally, I want to discuss Holme's substance abuse problems. Most people are shocked upon learning this, "*Gasp!* Sherlock Holmes? A drug addict?"

First off, lemme say that opium and cocaine users were very common in Victorian-age London. And even though Watson disapproved, Holmes would often turn to the needle during times of boredom in order to make up for the lack of activity.

Imagine putting a car in neutral and flooring the gas nonstop. Now imagine that poor engine is Holmes's brain. His mind worked so fast that he literally had to slow it down when he wasn't using it (i.e. when it wasn't in gear).

Brett's Holmes was seen using a needle multiple times until Brett requested Holmes be shown burying the needle at the conclusion of an episode. Too many children were writing fan letters to him and he didn't want them idolizing a drug addict.

Downey Jr.'s Holmes doesn't use a needle like the traditional Holmes does, though he does drink a variety of unorthodox liquids, such as formaldehyde, in order to get a buzz.

Cumberbatch's Holmes uses nicotine patches or straight-up cigarettes, though they do hint that he used to be a druggie.

So, basically, the more modernized Holmes gets the less time filmmakers tend to spend on his substance abuse issues. This is likely due to the sensitive nature the subject has adopted in our modern-day society.

When it all boils down, I love each of these Holmes equally for very different reasons. Each has brought something unique to the character and each is equally worth watching, regardless if you're a fan of the books.

So what do you think? Agree, disagree? Don't care? Seriously people, who's reading this crap? (Honestly, if you read all three parts I tip my figurative hat to you.)


  1. *Tippage*
    I have to agree on most of your analysis here. The Downey Jr Holmes is my favorite, because I think it adds more dimension and reality to a character that I have to admit was pretty much all about the mystery-solving when he was written by Conan-Doyle. The one thing I don't like is his apparent disregard for hygiene, which would never have happened in the books. He was always shaved and cleaned up whilst on a case.
    I like the Watson in the Cumberbatch Holmes best, because he tries to do a little detecting on his own, which is (in my opinion) truer to the Watson of the books (I mean look at "Hound of the Baskervilles," the whole thing is about Watson trying to solve crimes and pick up on things like Holmes (who's barely in that story).
    Also, fun little tidbit, RDJ had to wear lifts on his shoes during the filming because he's that short. Ha!
    All in all, the fun thing I like about Sherlock Holmes interpretations is that Arthur Conan Doyle was deliberately vague and sometimes contradictory in writing his characters, so seeing them interpreted in different ways is, to me, pretty fun.

    1. Great point, Shannon! I thought about mentioning Downey's scruffy appearance, but I figured that was an allusion to Conan Doyle's reference to Holmes's 'Bohemian spirit'. Either way, that's a really good point to make. And I totally agree about Conan Doyle deliberately making his characters vague and contradicting, but that may have also been due to the fact that he only resurrected Holmes because of popular demand. Maybe he had a 'Just give em what they want' attitude. Whatever his motivations, thank goodness he did! Because, as you said, now we have all these great interpretations of the characters. :)

  2. Tip right back at you. I watched Sherlock Holmes when I was younger but I don't remember it much. My mom would also tell me about the books, because they were too long (in my opinion) for me to start reading. Alls I have to say is...Robert Downey Jr is bringing sexy back. He's one Holmes I wouldn't mind investigating me. All of me. Too much? Maybe :)

  3. I love your analysis of the three Holmes' and I agree because I have seen all three performances. I don't have a favorite because I love them for different reasons - most of which you already mentioned. I love the books and am enjoying them a lot and I probably wouldn't have read them if it wasn't for you. Thanks for bringing culture into my life!