Sherlock Holmes is a fascinating character, to people not so familiar to the character he seems to brim with invulnerability and superiority. Like a superhero, he is above pettiness and things that lower people to poor standards. Yet he was a man who was addicted to Cocaine. A seven percent solution to be precise.
But would Sherlock Holmes really be a man weak enough to succumb to that?
This movie based on Nicholas Meyer’s Novel seems to think so. Nic Meyer, is the man who Directed Star Trek II and VI, the writer of Star Trek IV and a self proclaimed Sherlock Holmes fan. His Star Trek movies is sprinkled with references from it, see Star Trek VI to discover which Trek character is related to Sherlock Holmes!
We may assume that today Cocaine is bad. Mmmkay. But in the 1880s it was used in various things to help relax people. Heroine too was taken by people in the 19th Century. At the time, the addictive effects of such substances were unknown and the thought was that only those of a weak mind became addicted. Yet clearly Sir Arthur Conan Doyle saw it as a dangerous drug back in his time, having Watson scold Holmes for it’s use.
In the Granada TV series of Sherlock Holmes, the episode “The Devils Foot” we see Holmes give up Cocaine. Jeremy Brett was worried that the character’s addiction would be a bad influence on the young audience that viewed the show. Holmes buries his syringe on the beach and empties the cocaine solution onto the ground. Brett sought and received permission from Dame Jean Conan Doyle to have Holmes “kick the habit.” In the 2009 Movie “Sherlock Holmes” the character experiments with something that is potent enough to make him hallucinate and in the 2010 series “Sherlock” when police raid their flat John protests, telling police that they won’t find any drugs. Sherlock promptly tells him to shut up.
In the movie “The Seven Percent Solution” the character of Holmes has cracked and has become severely disillusioned that a man named “Moriarty” is trying to kill him. Yet in this movie Moriarty’s threat is all in Holmes mind. The Napoleon of crime seems to be nothing more than an old man that Holmes is tormenting with accusations. But why? Watson and Holme’s brother Mycroft (played by Charles Gray who also plays Mycroft in the Granada series) decide to lead Holmes to Vienna to get some help from some dude named Sigmund Freud.
Holmes goes cold turkey and in his recovery Sigmund tries to get to the root of what is in Holmes’s mind to make him take cocaine. He doesn’t believe that it is to comfort Holmes from the monotonously of life. He believes there’s something more to his usage. While this is happening another mystery unfolds around them with patients at a hospital disappearing. The new case gets Holmes back into his much needed element of crime solving. Freud too is a quick learner of Holmes method and is also on the case with him.
There’s always something unsettling when the hero of literature or film goes off the deep end. I think there’s different ways to handle it. Here Holmes seems rather pathetic while Freud shines as the man with the answers, he even cracks some mystery behind Sherlock himself. Maybe that’s my problem with this film. Holmes never actually deals with this. It’s not confronted and defeated. By the end of the film he is cured but only as a man brought back to normal. He didn’t overcome his darkness. The revelation of his past doesn’t really sit right with me. It rewrites over Holmes canon and doesn’t make it better. The original relationship between Holmes and Moriarty is far more interesting as two great minds locked in battle. I find Holmes surviving his near death more believable than the alternative presented here.
Alan Arkin shines as Sigmund Freud. The focus of the film should have been on him. Nicol Williamson as Holmes I was less impressed with after being spoilt by other actors who have played the character with gravitas. Robert Duvall over does it with the British accent which is obvious from the moment you first hear him speak. Laurence Olivier as Moriarty, well, unfortunately one of the finest actors is hardly in it and they had him play one of Holmes’s greatest enemies as a scared man who is nothing like the real Moriarty. Ah! seems like such a waste! What might we have seen if he had played Conan Doyle’s Moriarty….
I would have liked to have seen the story take place after his battle with Moriarty. It would be interesting to see the character deal with the addiction over the years through travels and self discovery. But in the end I still like Holmes own reason for taking cocaine and find it more valid. Life is just too boring sometimes.
Favorite Quote: “I never guess: it is an appalling habit, destructive to the logical faculty. A private study is an ideal place for observing facets of a man’s character. That the study belongs to you exclusively is evident from the dust: not even the maid is permitted here, else she would scarcely have ventured to let matters come to this pass.” – Sherlock Holmes