Male buddy movies like "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" often inspire critics and fans to start throwing around words like "bromance" and "homoerotic subtext." The close bond between super sleuth Holmes and his partner in crime-solving, Dr. Watson, is more than mere friendship; there's a true sense of affection and the I-would-take-a-bullet-for-you devotion on the order of guys in the trenches. Audiences viewing both of Guy Ritchie's "Sherlock Holmes" films may begin to wonder, however, when the gay subtext becomes actual text.
Take a sampling of the reviews for "A Game of Shadows" and you'll find an entire range of responses to the Watson/Holmes relationship. The Village Voice reviewer doesn't feel much at all for the characters other than the "playful homo subtext" in the Holmes-in-drag scene. The Hollywood Reporter, on the other hand, doesn't mention the rapport of the characters at all, let alone any subtext.
The U.K. site Hey You Guys offers up the idea that Holmes is jealous of Watson for having found true love. Big Gay Picture Show gives viewers an either/or explanation for Holmes's intense desire to prevent Watson's impending marriage: that of a disruption to their "partnership/relationship." Empire declares that in this "Sherlock Holmes" sequel, the "bromance gathers steam, homoeroticism now less a subtext than extended routine."
The questions most often asked of lead actors Robert Downey Jr. (Holmes) and Jude Law (Watson) involve their chemistry, both on- and off-screen. The two "instant" friends make it clear time and again that their affection for one another in real life helped with the sincerity of the feelings between the characters. A collection of several video interviews illustrates how comfortable the two are with one another, both with physical closeness and verbal expressions of their admiration for each other.
Like Johnny Depp with his camp Captain Jack in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" series, it's clear the actors also have fun playing up the gay subtext of the characters in their interviews. Downey even describes the Watson and Holmes duo as "bickering like two old queens who are wondering what street they want to go antiquing on."
Guy Ritchie Films
Though the relationships between the characters obviously begin with the script by Michele and Kieran Mulroney, it's not surprising to see a bromance like this in a film directed by Guy Ritchie. With heavy doses of male bravado and non-PC humor, Ritchie managed a rather complex and sensitive portrayal of a gay/straight male friendship in "RocknRolla," exploring just how far a guy's hetero instincts would/should let him bend for that guy-who-would-take-a-bullet-for-him.
The relationship in "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" is less overt, but has a similar angle. The strength of Holmes's opposition to Watson's marriage seems, particularly as portrayed by Downey, to go deeper than resenting the loss of a partner in adventure. There's an element of unrequited love there, a pain seen in his eyes and heard in his voice as he promises one more time that this case is the last one.
Empire's reviewer Ian Nathan notes that Law has also added a touch of sensitivity to Watson in the "Sherlock Holmes" sequel. Some of that sensitivity manifests itself as a knowing look in Watson's eye, an affectionate understanding that his former roommate has stronger feelings than friendship. There's also the playfully suspicious hesitancy in getting down on the floor with a shirtless and make-upped Holmes, a scene that Hey U Guys went so far as to call "transsexual tomfoolery."
From the various reactions to "A Game of Shadows," it's evident that a gay love story exists -- if you want it to. The actors, writers, and director have left enough clues for the viewer to interpret or completely ignore. Holmes and Watson may simply be blood brothers, diehard friends. One could argue that the psychologically unstable Holmes desperately needs Watson to bring order to his life and keep him grounded when his mind goes off to fanciful or dark places.
Both these interpretations can coincide with a deeper, more loving relationship between the two. The fact that so many layers exist in the film shows that once again Ritchie has helmed a blockbuster film full of action, explosions, pure nonsense -- and some pure human emotion.
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