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Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law
February 9, 2010
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Arthur C. Clarke
At the very heart of Warner Brothers new film Sherlock Holmes lies an unfortunate secret. It is revealed at a meeting between Holmes, Chief Justice Sir Thomas Rotham, Home Secretary Coward, and American Ambassador Standish in the headquarters of the Temple of the Four Orders. Superficially a matter of illegitimate birth, the secret is really about corruption within. It appears to Holmes, skeptical of secret orders and the powers they wield, that the Temple is in danger of a coup d’état led by the nefarious dark master, Lord Blackwood. But Blackwood, a serial murderer caught by Holmes, was hung by the neck until dead. In the presence of Holmes and the good Dr. Watson. It was after all, Watson who pronounced the villain dead!
“Be as skeptical as you like Holmes, but our secret systems have steered the world toward the greater good for centuries. The danger is they can be used for more nefarious purposes.”
Sir Thomas Rotham, Chief Justice
The Temple leaders believe that Lord Blackwood has used the occult Book of Spells to harness the dark arts and return from the grave. Holmes, ever the pragmatist driven by rational thought – doubts the entire enterprise. But when asked by the Home Secretary what his price will be, he agrees to help; though not for the Temple leaders or for a price. Holmes’ weakness is stagnation. Without a formidable intellectual challenge, he sits at home desultory, blasting holes in the walls with a pistol. His is a restless mind. In constant need of stimulation, else the black dog of depression tears it apart.
The film’s leading roles are beautifully played by Jude Law (Dr. Watson) and Robert Downey Jr. (Holmes) with no small measure of passion and wry humor. The characters are two long-time friends with a deep camaraderie, each of whom is enamored of one another and a woman. It makes for a touching cinematic display of friendship veering down the path of familial growth. The film is energetically directed by Guy Ritchie and dressed with lovely sepia-toned shots of nineteenth century London.
What is striking and worthy of the narrative is the agreement by both the Temple’s secret order and Sherlock Holmes that there is a cancer in their midst. While it emanates from the small circle of Blackwood’s influence, it affects the larger order. Holmes sees corruption as the inevitable outgrowth of power. To him, co-option of knowledge by a small group of brokers eventually leads to villainy. It is not only human in nature – it is endemic to people. Thus even the temples of good will, given unconstrained power become corrupt. In this case when the magic of the order fails, the power of rational thought does not. It is a perfect application of Holmes’ analytical skills.
On the deeper unconscious level we might speculate on why it is that Holmes so distrusts the power of the order. And instead relies on the difficult process of rational thought. We might say that Holmes despite appearances and anti-social manner, is a religious man. If he were to subscribe to a doctrine of divine power – it would not be that of a secret order of men. Rather, Homes would believe that a loving God need not manipulate men for the greater good. Nor secrete knowledge and power. To Holmes’ rational mind a loving God would be disinterested in even His own powers. A true God would care only to shed His grace upon His creation, unimpeded by orders and sects and the occult. It is after all the Christian ideal to have faith and believe in the almighty Father, for whom the original Temple was built.