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Mr Holmes (2015)

In my opinion, Sherlock Holmes (a fictional character created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) is the greatest detective in the world, second only to Batman (another fictional character). Using pure logic, Sherlock Holmes has solved numerous mind boggling mysteries in various medium of books, movies and fanzines. This movie poses the ultimate problem for Sherlock Holmes. Based on Mitch Cullin’s 2005 novel A Slight Trick of the Mind, the victim of the crime is Sherlock Holmes himself. The crime is senility or Alzheimer’s Disease. How will Holmes solve a crime that robs him of his logic and his memories and will ultimately his selfhood. This is an existential question that this movie attempts to answer. Who are we as a person when we begin to lose our mental faculties and our memories? Do we still remain ‘us’ or become something or someone else?

Ian McKellan gives a superb performance as an aging 93 years old Sherlock Holmes. The year is 1947. Holmes is living in retirement in a picturesque English country cottage, looked after by a war-widow, Mrs Munro and her son, Roger. Holmes has taken up bee keeping as a hobby. He is fragile, subjects to falls, and is plagued by his inability to remember significant parts of his past. Using his remarkable deductive skills which seems to be intact, Holmes try to remember the details of two cases from the past. One involved the suicide of a young wife and the other, the reason why a young man would abandon his family and disappear. This happens in an atmosphere of growing antagonist between his housekeeper and him as he becomes more and more dependent on her but resenting it, and his growing friendship with Roger, the housekeeper’s precocious son. He uses a technique of recovering memories by writing a fictional story involving himself and allows Roger read it. The story unfolds with numerous flashback showing a younger, smartly dressed Holmes, as the older Holmes recover the pieces of the puzzle that were missing from his memories.

Growing old is a common condition to everyone. Most of us fear growing old. Using the number of years to define old may be relative and cultural bound. Living to the 80s and 90s is relatively new to us Asians and we have yet come to terms with an aging population that live longer than our ancestors. In truth, most of us do not fear aging but what accompanies aging – loss of self-esteem, income and privileges after we retire, our bodies falling apart and we become host to aches and pain, chronic diseases, heart problems and cancers. What is more fearful is the onset of Alzheimer’s  when we first begin to lose our recent memories, then logical thinking, emotional control until we became a chaotic mess of fearful uncontrolled emotions in an aged body. In the Gospel of John, Jesus made a rather cryptic statement to Peter about when Peter was young, he can go wherever he wants. When he became old, people will use his belt to tie his hand and lead him to where he does not want to go. The statement often reminds me of Alzheimer’s.

What happens to us when Alzheimer’s robs us of our memories, our emotional control, our reasoning and finally of our self-awareness. This is where I struggle with my evangelical theology. St. Paul advise us to grow spiritually by not conforming to the world but by renewing our minds. By that I assume using our cognitive abilities to choose a life of discipleship. What happens when we no longer have our minds such as in the late stages of Alzheimer’s? I have seen gracious compassionate pious Christian being transformed to sly nasty Gollum as Alzheimer’s take its toll. I wonder what St.Paul will say to that?

[spoiler alert!] The movie does have a happy ending, if we can call that a happy ending. In recovering his memories, Holmes come to understand is own life more. He even feels regrets for paths not taken. More significantly is that he comes to accept his fate and come to terms with his life situation. Winter is not only coming but is already here. In a symbolic gesture, Holmes writes the names of significant people in his life on stones and places them in a circle around them. He then pays homage to them. In typical Holmesian fashion, Sherlock Holmes, grandmaster detective, defeated his villain Alzheimer’s by escaping into his memories.

My other movie reviews and reflection are here

4 November 2015