Sherlock Holmes: More and Less.

Rathbone & Bruce as Holmes & Watson (1939-46)

Law & Downey as Watson & Holmes (2009)

If you’ve been a fan of Sherlock Holmes any longer than the time that’s now lapsed since Christmas Day, and you’ve also seen the new movie, you will have already duly noted some major differences in the screen personna of the famous detective character as portrayed in this 21st century version by Robert Downey, Jr. in comparison to the earlier Basil Rathbone interpretation.

The similarities and differences between the the Downey and Rathbone versions are elementery.

First the similar: (1) both are brilliant; (2) both are geniuses living in apparent physical chaos at 221b Baker Street in London in the late 19th century; (3) both use the violin to encourage deductive balance and to test certain theories of math; (4) both are totally dedicated to deductive reasoning as the pathway to truth; (5) neither has an apparently real or ongoing close relationship with a significant adult female; and (6) both have a close adult male friend named Dr. John Watson as their partner in crimefighting.

Now for the differences: (1) Rathbone is far more verbal; (2.) Downey is far more physical; (3) Rathbone is far more reserved in the presence of attractive women; (4) Downey is far more open to whatever may be desirable or possible in the presence of attractive women; (5) Rathbone’s friend Watson is little more than a glorified “go-fer” guy than he is an intellectual partner in crimesolving; (6) Downey’s friend Watson covers Holmes’s back mentally and physically at every turn.

Unlike Rathbone’s Watson, played by the bumbling older actor Nigel Bruce, Downey’s Watson, played by age peer Jude Law, is young, virile, physical, and he is recently engaged to be married. You get the impression at first  that Holmes dreads the thought of losing his partner in crimefighting to Watson’s impending marital bliss. Hints of a latent homosexual relationship betwenn Holmes and Watson are fairly well erased as a star-crossed female love reappears through the plot into the life of the world’s greatest detective.

I liked the new movie. I loved the cinematic portrayal of late 19th century London. It’s simply far different from the classic Rathbone versions. The older Holmes placed far more emphasis upon intellectual thought and expression in words. The younger Holmes, typical of the early 21st century zeitgeist, is also very smart, but much more inclined to action and physical force. Downey neither dressed the part nor talked the talk of the classic Rathbone Holmes. Not once does Downey wear the famous hat, smoke the Meershaum, or utter the phrase, “Elementary, my dear Watson.”

One other thing that’s different: if you watch the old Sherlock Holmes at home on DVD, you may watch it in the dark, if you so choose. If you watch the new Sherlock Holmes at the multi-cinemas, you have to watch it under the usual new conditions of constantly light-blinking cell phones sprinkling their way through the dark as younger viewers continue to text their ways through the playing of the movie without regard for any distraction they may be causing to others.

Are we simply becoming lost from the idea of consideration for others? The answer seems elementary.

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