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Mr. Holmes, Dame Smith, and The Valuable Phone Call

August 11, 2015 6 comments

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A friend I’ve known since I was 22 years old joined me a few days ago for a girls’ weekend.

The first afternoon we went to a movie, Mr. Holmes: The Man Behind the Myth.  Wonderful acting by Ian McKellen, Laura Linney and an enchanting Milo Parker.  A story within a story within a story with a plot of twists and turns and clues that can go right by you if you’re lazing into one of those recliner-seat-type movie theatres.   Underlying the storylines is the fading expertise of master British sleuth, Sherlock Holmes.  Without giving away anything that’s not revealed in the first minutes of the film, the now-nonagenerian Mr. Holmes has retired for two reasons.  One of them is not revealed immediately; the other is his slipping memory.

The next night we opted to stay at home and re-watched one of my all-time favorites, The Quartet, with Maggie Smith.    If you’ve seen the movie, you know that Dame Maggie’s opera-star character wages a battle on two fronts: with ghosts of the past and, like Mr. Holmes, with a diminished sense of her ongoing worth.

Seeing both movies made for a fun, relaxing weekend.

Then came The Phone Call the next day.  Real-time, real-life.   From a different friend who had recently moved several states away from her long-time home, life-long friends and a successful career.  All of these had formerly served to identify her but all now seemed to have gone missing and with them her sense of personal value. How to get it back? A case for concern.  There was a familiar ring to all this.

I  am also living in a different place than I was just a couple of years ago.  What has that change meant for how I feel about myself and what I do now in comparison with what I did then?   My friend’s surprising reprise of the same issue I had just watched on both the big and small screens left me doing a double take.

I love good movies.  The stories they tell almost always show us something about ourselves, along with providing a tablespoon of entertaining sugar that makes any such truths easier to swallow.

Both the fictional Mr. Holmes and the Quartet’s star performer knew from experience that they had enjoyed near legendary reputations and adulation.  But that was then.  Now who was the person, what was the reality behind the myths?  To find out,  each ultimately had to go inside to face privately what had motivated the use of their unique abilities and, perhaps even more painfully,  how they had responded to relationships intertwined with their careers.

In both movies it took a near-catastrophe to jolt the lead character out of an all-about-me zone,  in which what controlled them was  the fear that they might never again live up to their previously enjoyed public persona.   When love and friendship forced the fabled detective and the famous prima donna to forget past achievements and focus instead on what others needed in the here and now that no one else could realistically provide,  each discovered new life.   In Holmes case, that led to solving an old mystery as well as a life-saving new one.  In the Quartet’s Tales of Retirement it resulted in a bravo-worth denouement.

What I do next in my own life is yet to be determined.  I know I don’t want to be said about me what Oliver Wendell (not Sherlock) Holmes penned back in an 1858 poem he titled “The Voiceless”:

       Alas for those that never sing, but die with all their music in them.

The other Mr. Holmes, the one in the eponymous movie,  found a way to avoid that fate;  so did Dame Smith’s character.

Moral of the movie weekend for me: be open to discovering now ways to use one’s unique “singing” abilities for others.