How Sherlock Holmes (2009) Has Been Reappropriated to Suit a Modern Audience

The film, ???Sherlock Holmes??™ (2009), directed by Guy Ritchie, is a successful appropriation of the characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson as they appear in Arthur Conan Doyle??™s novellas ???A Study in Scarlet??™ and ???The Sign of Four??™. It is successful because it re-invents these characters so that they are accessible and relevant to a modern audience. The plot in Ritchie??™s film is completely different from those in the two novellas but the presentation of the characters is similar in the most important aspects.
Conan Doyle??™s novellas were written and set in the Victorian Era where culture and values were very different from todays. In this era, novels and other written texts were the most popular mediums produced by composers. Society of that time was infatuated with science and the idea of a hero who could solve crimes with reasoning and cleverness had great appeal. This made Conan Doyle??™s writings a part of popular culture at the time. Today these texts are regarded as ???high culture??™. This is because of the dated language and values have made them not as accessible today as they once were.
There have been several appropriations of Conan Doyle??™s novellas into film over the years as film has become the most popular medium in popular culture. Holmes character has been reappropriated over and over because of its popularity. It has been constantly changed or re-energised to comply with the popular culture of the time. In the film, ???Sherlock Holmes??™, there have been several changes to the character of Sherlock Holmes from the writings of Arthur Conan Doyle to better appropriate him to a modern audience. In the film Holmes has a much better attitude towards women compared to the previous works. This is presented through his relationship with Irene Adler. Irene is a world class criminal who was said to be the only person ever to beat Holmes. This is a change from the novels where Sherlock was shown to be infallible. Irene Adler is an example of how the rise of feminism has changed society??™s views on women and their role in popular culture. Holmes??™ attitude towards women must change to comply with societies expectations. Throughout the film Holmes develops a love interest in Irene and there is a suggested sexual link between the two which is never confirmed. Irene drugs Holmes in her hotel room, later he is discovered nude and chained to the bed.
In the novels however, Holmes seems completely indifferent to women. He is even presented as sexist in ???The Sign of Four??™ when he says ???Women are never to be entirely trusted-not the best of them???. The novel is written in first person through Watson so we identify with him and his relationship with Mary Morstan. We observe Holmes cold and observational reasoning through Watson in the novels. The film however, is portrayed in third person. Therefore Ritchie has given Holmes a love interest in an effort to give him more human qualities. This helps the character relate to the audience and make him more likeable. Another way the film effectively relates to a modern audience is by introducing these romantic/love themes which are prevalent in most modern popular texts.Another change that has been implemented to the character of Sherlock Holmes is his addiction to drugs. In the novella, ???The Sign of Four??™, Holmes is shown injecting himself with a solution of cocaine. He reasons this use with the fact that he is bored between cases and requires stimulation; ???My mind rebels at stagnation??? he says. ???I abhor the dull routine of existence. I crave for mental exaltation???. In the film however, there is no evidence of Sherlock using cocaine. Instead he is presented as a heavy user of alcohol. At the end of his boxing match he grabs a bottle of spirits and rips out the cork with his teeth before taking a swig.
Ritchie has chosen not to present Holmes as a cocaine addict because the use of such drugs is frowned upon in today??™s society and would conflict with his status as the protagonist in the film. However a modern audience has a high tolerance of the abuse of alcohol. Holmes may have used alcohol as a way of coping with his everyday existence as he did with cocaine in Conan Doyle??™s novels. Also Holmes??™ use of alcohol makes him easier to relate to as he is presented with the same values and attitudes of today??™s society. In Victorian times little was known about the effects of drugs such as cocaine and it was considered to be a safe, non-addicting substance. This change is effective for a modern audience because it still presents Holmes as a flawed individual but his use of cocaine has been discontinued because of society??™s changing view on drug use.Another change that has been made to the character of Sherlock Holmes is that he is less egotistical in the film than in Conan Doyle??™s novels. For example in ???A Study in Scarlet??™ Watson is impressed by Holmes analytical powers and compares him to a fictional character in an Edgar Allan Poe novel. Holmes then professes his own superiority to this character at analysis and deduction. Watson responds to this by saying ???This fellow may be very clever, but he is certainly very conceited???. In the film there is little evidence of Holmes??™ egotistical manner but he is still presented as being confident in his own abilities.
Ritchie has chosen to make Sherlock Holmes less egotistical in the film in an effort to make him more likeable to the audience. In Conan Doyle??™s texts Holmes is presented through Watson. Watson??™s character provides the human qualities that Holmes lacks. The film however, is in third person. Holmes??™ character has been made less egotistical and more relatable to make him more likeable to a modern audience. In the film, ???Sherlock Holmes??™, there has been several changes to the character of Dr John Watson from the novels of Arthur Conan Doyle to better appropriate him to a modern audience. It is apparent that Watson is much more physical in the film compared to the earlier novels. For example in the opening scene where Lord Blackwood is about to sacrifice a virgin, both Watson and Holmes show an aptitude for martial arts (or boxing). They are shown physically beating up villains in order to stop Blackwood from committing murder. In Conan Doyle??™s novels however, Watson shows no evidence of physical capabilities. He is displayed as an observer of Holmes??™s actions in the novels not as a man of action.
Ritchie has incorporated more physicality and action into the film to make it more exciting for a modern audience. Guy Ritchie is a martial arts enthusiast so this may have compelled him to include more action scenes in the film. In the novels Watson is shown in first person, observing Holmes??™ actions. In the film however he is displayed in third person so the character must serve as more than just a narrator for Holmes??™s exploits. This is shown through his physicality in the film assisting Holmes in fighting a multitude of villains. This makes it an effective adaption from the novels as he plays a much larger role in assisting Holmes through an increase in physicality.Another change that has been made to the character of Dr John Watson is that he is more powerful and equal in his relationship with Holmes. In Conan Doyle??™s novels Watson is a passive observer and admirer of Sherlock??™s actions. He is subservient to Holmes and does not argue with his decisions or actions. For example in the novel, ???A Study in Scarlet??™, Holmes examines the murder scene of Enoch Drebber, Watson complies with Holmes??™s decisions; ???Come along, Doctor, we shall go and look him up???. He is in constant admiration of Holmes??™s actions; ???You amaze me Holmes???. However in the film, Watson is much more opinionated and the two are often squabbling. When the two are riding in a carriage Holmes gives in to Watson in an argument over Watson??™s waistcoat.
Ritchie has made Watson more powerful in this relationship because his character plays a much more important role in the film than previous works. Also it makes the film more entertaining because the banter between Holmes and Watson is used often as a source of humour. This makes the adaption successful because the film is entertaining, which is the aim of most modern popular texts. In the film ???Sherlock Holmes??™, important aspects have been kept similar about the characters compared to the writings of Conan Doyle to make the appropriation successful. Holmes is still displayed as an analytical and observational genius. This, in essence, is the crux of Holmes??™s character; it makes him who he is. This is evidenced in the film when Holmes deducts information about Mary Morstan??™s past, such as the fact that she was previously married, simply by observing her necklace and earrings. Similarly, in the novella ???A Study in Scarlet??™ Holmes deduces that Watson had been serving in Afghanistan by observing the colour of his skin and other minor details.In conclusion, the film ???Sherlock Holmes??™, directed by Guy Ritchie, is a successful appropriation of the characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson from the earlier writings of Arthur Conan Doyle. It is successful because it reinvents these old characters to appeal to a modern audience without losing the essence of what makes the characters themselves. It does this by blending modern popular culture themes such as action, romance and humour with the characters of Holmes and Watson to create a piece that is accessible and relevant to a modern audience.

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