Saturday, January 11, 2014

Mustaches & Marriages: Watson in Sherlock & Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows

Martin Freeman stars as John Watson in Sherlock. There has been quite a bit of fuss made over Freeman's Watson growing a mustache in the two-year interlude from Sherlock's (Cumberbatch) suicide to when Sherlock produces himself again for Watson during a dinner; Holmes makes fun of the mustache and Watson punches him. This really tells us everything we need to understand why Watson grew the mustache: his intellectual appetites could no longer be served with his adventures with Holmes, so he has resorted to the regular sort of appetites, those provided by food and marriage. How can we deduce this? Hair usually symbolizes the thoughts--because hair grows on the head, where our thoughts are formulated, so however the hair looks, reveals what kind of thoughts that character has or how thoughts are formed by that character--so for the hair to be "transplanted" from Watson's head to his mouth, rather dramatically--because no one thinks he looks good with it, so it's not a matter of aesthetics--suggests that what was once the "intellectual pursuits" for Watson are, since Sherlock's death, "normal pursuits" of the appetites. In the picture below, we contrast this with Jude Law's portrayal of Watson.
I don't watch television generally speaking, in spite of its massive impact upon popular culture, I really just don't have the time; even I, however, have been bombarded with the international frenzy over the "return" of Benedict Cumberbatch's Holmes in the BBC production of Sherlock (available through Netflix as my "Cumber-struck" mother keeps reminding me). The season 3 of Sherlock has not aired on this side of the pond, so, if you don't want to know what happens, eek, I probably spilt all the beans in the caption above, but you should probably stop reading; for the rest of you, there are two matters of two Watsons requiring our attention: the mustache and the marriage,...
In comparison to Freeman's Watson, Jude Law's Dr. Watson (above) in the Guy Ritchie series of Sherlock Holmes also starring Robert Downey Jr., has sported a mustache from the beginning; meaning,...? This John Watson fully intends to indulge in both the intellectual adventures he shares with Holmes as well as the comforts enjoyed in the state of matrimony, and the betting at the gambling table (Watson's an energetic man, as Holmes' describes him when he first meets Mary at dinner in Sherlock Holmes). We were introduced to Mary Morstan in 2009 in Sherlock Holmes, and they marry in Sherlock Holmes A Game Of Shadows. Even while Watson insists he is finished with Holmes' adventures, he gets sucked in for one last time because Moriarty has targeted him and Mary. In the image above, we have the perfect portrait of Law's Watson: a man of all the appetites. He enjoys a good fight (the bruises and disshelved appearance), the lingering smells of alcohol from his drinking binge and hangover, and the woman at his side (please note, that Mary's veil is not down covering her face: the bride's veil traditionally symbolized the bride's virginity and the lifting of the veil was the foreshadowing of the breaking of the hymen during the consummation; since Mary's veil is all ready lifted, Watson has all ready "known her" which is substantiated by them having lived together, which would not have happened during Victorian times (when this Sherlock Holmes takes place); so using wardrobe and tradition to make a non-traditional statement is important because of what we are going to discuss in just a moment below.
Hopefully, you have read the captions in the pictures above; if you haven't, please do so. Now, we have explored Watson's mustache, why does Holmes NOT have a mustache (Downey's Holmes, above, clearly has more than a 5 o'clock shadow because of the night's adventure, but this isn't typical of Holmes, although we will discuss this below)? Holmes is the intellectual purist: he lives in his head, and that's where his ravenous appetites also live, in the realm of the mental, creating something of a vicious cycle: Holmes wants only intelligent food to keep himself nourished, but being nourished on the intellect alone, he has no taste for the comforts of "normalcy" which helps Watson keep his feet on the ground and his sanity (now, this would be an excellent place to mention in the original stories the occasional use of drugs by Holmes, which were legal during this time, and used when he lacked a stimulating case; as Holmes' "only vice," rather than visiting brothels or indulging in food/drink, even gambling like Dr. Edward Fitzgerald (Robbie Coltrane) in the UK TV series Cracker, the use of drugs to stimulate Holmes' mind when there wasn't a stimulating case for him to be working on verifies the quality and quantity of nourishing intellectualism Holmes' required for functioning). So, Holmes doesn't have a moustache because all his hair is on his head, or, in other words, Holmes doesn't have a moustache because all his appetites are in his head.

Why does Robert Downey Jr.'s Sherlock have a 5 o'clock shadow at Watson's marriage? Because of the usual interpretation of a man (in a work of art, not in daily life, my dear gentlemen) as being "barbaric" because the ancient Roman men always were clean-shaven, whereas the barbarians on the frontier grew their facial hair (I think some of the gypsies and anarchists also have facial hair). Why should the film makers want us to think of Holmes as being "barbaric?" Because of two other men who have facial hair in the film, Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris) and his lead henchman Colonel Moran (Paul Anderson). Why should the audience link Moran and Moriarty to Holmes at all (please remember, it's right after the Watson wedding that Moran tells Holmes Moriarty wants to meet with him that day)? Because, we can deduce, Holmes not getting married and begetting "little Holmeses" is as destructive for society as the barbaric Moriarty-Moran planning World War I for the sake of money. Which leads us to the really really really really important point all this is leading up to,....
Both Sherlock and Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows are supporting traditional marriage. As shocking as this is in today's society, there is not only the supporting of a man and a woman getting married, but of two men being friends and not having sex with each other. Both the traditional values of marriage (as opposed to just living together) and marriage between a man and a woman (not man and man, not woman and woman, not man and women) have been advanced. Further, the friendship of Watson and Holmes is upheld as both platonic--rather than sexual--and necessary to both of them for their happiness (which probably really upset feminists who hate "male bonding" and gay activists who insist that "everyone is gay").
Why is this important?
Art works for everyone, for any political agenda, for keeping or undermining any social injustice, for keeping norms or destroying them; these popular shows demonstrate that traditional values are still being supported by contemporary art intentionally because it would be easy to leave details or narrative developments like these out of the plot (even if individual actors/film makers support something non-traditional, they are just one small building block in the enormous film/television production and therefore can be dismissed outside of their personal appearances or politics) and these are the values being transmitted to the audiences when these shows are watched. Art has an enormous influence on life and people's perceptions of what is right and wrong, so we can hope that this is a good sign and take comfort in watching these programs.
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner
Claude Ravache in Sherlock Holmes a Game Of Shadows, the leader of the anarchists who agree to do Moriarty's dirty work. Claude enjoys his last meal before killing himself so this scene provides excellent opportunity to demonstrate my theory. Claude has a mustache and rather overgrown sideburns, so we could say he has "two appetites" since he has two areas of facial hair rather than big sideburns or a mustache. We see him thoroughly enjoying his meal and wine, so love of food is a legitimate appetite, but what do the sideburns symbolize? Probably his political aspirations which led him to make the greedy deal with Moriarty that now entails his suicide. What about the "wife and child" Claude mentions? An argument could be posed that had he not had a "hunger" for the wedded state, he wouldn't have to commit suicide because then Moriarty wouldn't have means of controlling Claude. I have two responses to that: first, if even an anarchist is getting married, that implies that marriage is a very natural state in which to be (accentuating the argument above regarding Holmes having the 5 o'clock shadow--remember, this film is called A Game Of Shadows, and part of the "game" is the word play on "shadows," including Holmes' facial hair--is a sign of his barbarism for not getting married because even anarchists get married even extreme anarchists (that was the reason Sim and her brother Renee left, Claude had become extreme).  Anarchists work against structured society, against the rules and norms, so that even an extreme anarchist is married proves the film validates traditional marriage. Secondly, if Claude were not married, Moriarty would find an alternative means of controlling Claude to get what he wants so I don't think the interpretation of the sideburn hair symbolizing the married state for this character is a legitimate interpretation. So Claude's appetites are such that he is willing to deal with the devil for what might be the realization of his political dreams, through committing suicide and the bomb that will kill countless people. Please remember, both Moran and Moriarty have full beards, opposed to Claude's moustache and sideburns.