I’ve always loved the books and the late 80’s tv show (starring the incomparable Jeremy Brett), but it had been quite awhile since I’d really given the great detective much thought. And then I FINALLY saw the 2009 Guy Ritchie-directed movie. Due to grad school, time constraints, one thing or another, I was never able to see the movie in theatres, but I finally bought the dvd. So now, of course, my love has been re-kindled, and I am re-reading the books with great enthusiasm, and watching the 80’s tv show (which I do, of course, have on dvd). I’ve watched the movie three times in two weeks. Suffice it to say, I definitely have Holmes on the brain. (And, in fact, I’m watching it again right now as I finish writing this.)
There are many things I could say about Sherlock Holmes, in any of his incarnations. But let’s focus on the movie for the moment. I’ve been trying to keep track of news about the sequel, and I discovered (long after that fact, admittedly) that back in January Robert Downy Jr. (perhaps half-jokingly) made some comments on the Late Show with David Letterman about the possibility of a “homoerotic subtext” in the sequel – at which point the woman in charge of the U.S. copyrights for Sherlock Holmes threatened the pull the plug on the sequel. Here’s the brief article I found on the subject:
Let me begin by saying that it is definitely, unabashedly, unapologetically, a reimagining of the characters. These characters are not quite the same as they were in the books – Holmes is just a little bit scruffier and more sarcastic; Watson is a bit more aggressive and, frankly, cool. But we all knew going in that this would be something alittle different. Ritchie was completely upfront about his intentions to reinterpret the story from the get-go; one can only assume that Andrea Plunket knew exactly what she was getting into. And let’s face it, literature as and/or more famous than Sherlock Holmes has been reimagined, reinterpreted, and adapted over the years. Shakespeare has been presented in more ways than I could begin to name – including one version of Macbeth (in Greenwich village) with the witches performing vaudeville songs, and another version (in London) that included machine guns and a helicopter. Authors have dropped zombies and vampires into the middle of Jane Austen novels, and turned Anna Karenina into an android. Andrew Lloyd Webber made the Passion of the Christ psychedelic and disco. And the 2008 movie Beowulf told us that Beowulf did not, in fact, kill Grendel’s mother (horrifying and despicable though she was), but instead had sex with her and gave her a new son – the dragon who would be Beowulf’s downfall. This all should be some indication that no narrative is sacred and untouchable, and that everything is (and SHOULD be) up for reinterpretation. And NEVER has any reimagining, reinterpretation, adaptation, etc EVER hurt, defile, or in anyway diminish the original. EVER. In fact, all such things have ever done is bring the original to a newer, wider, more diverse audience.
Besides which, I’ve got news for you Andrea Plunket. The subtext was ALREADY THERE. And I don’t just mean in the first movie – though it was definitely there as well. I’m talking about the books as well. Perhaps Doyle had no intentions of implying (or even imagining in the back of his head) that there was anything more than friendship between Holmes and Watson. After all, “sodomy” was still extremely illegal at the time (though that certainly didn’t stop Oscar Wilde). But an author’s intentions are not the sole, or even the most important, basis for the interpretation of a text. And the books (intentionally or not) leave PLENTY of room for a subtly homoerotic interpretation, such as the one Ritchie may (or may not, after all, all we have to go on are a few half-joking comments from Downy, Jr. to go) have had in mind. I’m not going to enumerate the places that leave open such a reading here – it would take far too long – just read the books with an open-mind willing to see the possibility and maybe, just maybe, you’ll see what I mean. But just consider a few of the major facts of the books: Watson is not only Holmes’s best friend, but essentially the ONLY person Holmes has any respect or affection for; despite efforts to make Irene Adler Holmes’ love interest, she is only in ONE story and Holmes only ever displays a professional admiration for her; the only time Holmes’s shows more than a modicum of emotion is when he believes Watson has been hurt. Etc. And obviously, others have noticed the possibility of subtext as well: I’ve done some “research” and found that fanfiction.net includes quite a few Holmes/Watson slash fics: many based on or inspired by the first movie, but also quite a few that were written long before the movie came out. Even my mother (who is not exactly the most comfortable with homosexuality) said to me YEARS ago when we were discussing “A Scandal in Bohemia”: “Of course, you realize Holmes was most likely a homosexual.” Straight-faced as you can be. And when I directed her to the article about Andrea Plunket, she announced that the woman was obviously an idiot and a prude (an hilarious accusation coming from my mother). If even my mother thinks it’s a legitimate, and in fact quite LIKELY, interpretation of the relationship between Holmes and Watson, then it can’t be that far-fetched.
I do not mean to say that this interpretation is the RIGHT one, or the ONLY one. There is nothing saying everyone MUST believe the characters had a more-than-friendly relationship, and even if you’re willing to entertain that idea, that doesn’t mean you must believe their “more-than” relationship necessarily involved a physical relationship (it was, after all, highly illegal, and even if two men could admit to feelings for each other, that doesn’t necessarily mean they would have acted on them). However, I DO mean to say that this interpretation is just as valid as any other, and should not be ignored or erased.
No, I don’t think the Ritchie sequel will have much homoerotic subtext in it (at least not anymore than was there in the first movie). There hasn’t been a whisper on the subject since that article in January. And no doubt Ritchie is not willing to risk losing his rights to the make the movie just to make a point. But I think it would be very interesting if Ritchie DID push the line as far as I can without getting into too much trouble.