The Great War is coming: Industrial-scale warfare & the massacres that led to the destruction of Europe. The ideology of progress is dying. But of course we know how this story ends. This is then the story of the failure of the greatest detective to prevent the greatest evil. First, let’s see the political difficulties. France & Germany are about to war, each fearing the other. This is the nationalist, right-wing problem. Meanwhile, anarchists are blowing things up. This is the internationalist, left-wing problem.
There is another specifically modern issue: Peace between commercial republics. We see a meeting of what were once called captains of industry. They proclaim politics separates people, but economics unites them: All people want money & the things money buys. These people are blown up promptly. Apparently, economics depends on peace, but cannot create it. The villain, a Professor Moriarty, shows the other side of the difference between economics & politics: Economics shows no loyalty to one’s own country. Selling to all belligerents may be the best business…
War, our director seems to teach, is fundamental to human nature. This opinion is voiced by the villain. Of course, it is easily dismissed, coming from him. But the director suggests it also by insisting on showing motion & explosions. Quietly, he shows, by camera movement & manipulation of time, that rest is an illusion. So also war is fundamental to nature, & peace is derivative from war.
The villain tells the hero that war is inevitable. The hero realizes he can neither change human nature nor palliate the passions that move soul to war. In the middle of the story, we suddenly arrive at this extraordinary perspective, where we must confront the fact that banal, small actions & habits can bring disastrous consequences, without the belief in divine retribution that holds men back by terrifying them.
Our protagonists, brothers Sherlock & Mycroft, are unconventional fellows. The one is a detective, the other a part of Britain’s foreign policy establishment. Nudity & pretending to be women suggest homosexuality. Further, the Holmes brothers refuse to obey not merely Britain’s laws, but all conventions of shame & decency. They are wise men, but their wisdom is immoderate. They understand neither marriage nor religion. Therefore, they cannot persuade people to act with right. Therefore, the world is exploding around them.
Watson is a doctor & a British veteran of the last imperial wars. What man were more conventional? Science & martial virtue marry in him. He is the quiet refutation of the apparent inevitability of the coming war. He is Britain herself, a champion of liberalism. His marriage shows he prefers the private life. He is not bellicose.
Go see it, it’s full of explosions