The slash is not the putrefaction
The Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes movie, I’d heard reported, is full of slash. Then I’d heard panicked retractions that it wasn’t. Then I heard bloggers say, "Oh, it is." Then I heard other bloggers say, sometimes testily, "No, it isn’t." I’d seen the trailers, and there’s enough in those teasers to promise some decent undertones, which was what made me so determined to get to the theater. I’d hoped for a slash gold mine, but I got something else, too.
Yes, there is slash in Sherlock Holmes. There are buckets and buckets if you want to look for it. Yes, you can read very easily another layer to the story, where the men get engaged to or flirt with women like beards they need to don while always being loyal to each other. You can read Watson’s impending marriage and departure (which of course never quite manages to happen) as his need to be socially acceptable, and Holmes’s chaotic lifestyle as the homosexual playground Watson secretly longs to return to, no matter how exhausting and difficult it can be. Yes, you can read all of that in without much work and have yourself a Slash Field Day.
But what there also is in this film is something deeper, more intricate, and far more beautiful than simple slash, fun as that is, and now that I’ve seen it, when I hear that the studio is backpedaling and freaking out over all the slash hints, I’m disappointed. Because what this movie is even more than the slash is the beautiful portrayal of a deep, affectionate partnership: without sex. Whether or not you want to imagine them having sex offscreen is not the point. These to men are partners to the core, working together in a synchrony few of us can know or understand. They know each other’s minds, they know each other’s weaknesses and strengths, and they accept them all because they are part of the partner. You can read the slash there because usually only in such parings do you get to see this kind of union, at least in men. I don’t think it used to be this way, but it certainly is now. If two men are emotionally intimate in any way, eyebrows rise. The only exception to this is if they are soldiers, but if they’re contemporary at all they must be emotionally constipated, holding their breath and clutching awkwardly at shoulders as they declare their love.
What does it say about a society whose males have become so stiff they cannot bend to one another in affection, sexual or otherwise? Why is male sexuality a threat? More importantly, why is male intimacy a threat? Ritchie has given us a story of two men who love one another deeply, who are strong and blisteringly intelligent and beautifully fallible and above all are one of the best on-screen couples I’ve seen in awhile. The relationship between Holmes and Watson reminds me that true love is not about sex, that it can happen between men and women and women and women and men and men and any combination of any orientation. There is nothing to backpedal about here and nothing to deny.
Where our concern should be instead is in the putrefaction of a society so afraid of its males it cannot stand them. What we should fear is a decay of a society which cannot allow males to love, which cannot let strength blend with weakness, which cannot let men blossom and bloom and shift and expand into whatever it is they need and want to be. Holmes and Watson are men. They are strong, they are sharp, they are grace and wit and fire. They may or may not be sleeping with one another, too. But they are better models for all of us than the cardboard offerings of masculinity Hollywood pumps out for us, safe and sanitized from any emotion except for when their plastic girlfriends die and need avenging.
There is nothing rotten about Holmes and Watson’s relationship, and there is nothing constipated, either. Go and see it at once, with or without your slash goggles. You’ll be in love with a charming couple no matter how you want to view them.