Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Beyond the Fog of Time

My new year's weekend was rather uneventful in a sense. I've never been much of a party person really, nor do I know anyone who is a party person or rather someone who is one and would actually invite me to a party. So I did the old-fashioned dinner and a movie thing, once with family and once with friends.

The odd thing was the two movies I saw could not have been more different from each other. Saturday night was earmarked for Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, followed by Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy on Sunday afternoon. In fact, after I was done watching the latter movie I couldn't help thinking they were calling the wrong movie A Game of Shadows.

What was even odder, however, is that two days later, I'm starting to see some similarities. And I'm not talking about the obviously British setting, in fact, both movies also travel half-way across Europe.

Most importantly, both exist in a world now swallowed by the past and astonishingly both evoke that lost world with such delicate and adroit detail, so much so that Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is continuously suffused with a sense of nostalgia and intense yearning.

What they both have in common is also the intrigue, the game of cat-and-mouse, the outwitting of an ideological enemy coupled with a sense of respect, even awe for that enemy's abilities.

While the character embodied by Robert Downey, Jr. is a far cry from the original man with the violin, tobacco pipe, deerstalker and steel-trap mind, there is in parts a trace of the science of deduction that Holmes applied with such finesse. However, I must say I preferred the actor who played Moriarty with such a perfect cold sneer behind an erudite veneer.

On the other hand, Gary Oldman's unsmiling George Smiley is a tired and semi-retired spy turned detective, hunting down a mole planted by his 'arch-enemy', the enigmatic Soviet spymaster Karla.

In a sense, both men are more-or-less singlehandedly trying to stall the outbreak of a world war, though the anachronistic bomb explosions in the Sherlock movie are nowhere near as scary as the leaky cauldron of secrets that is the British intelligence agency in the face of the Cold War.

And while Holmes has his loyal companion and best friend in Dr. Watson played by a genuinely funny Jude Law reluctantly tagging along 'one last time', the banter between the two characters and the chemistry between the two actors accounting for most of the entertainment the film provides, Smiley has his dependably sharp and intrepid young protege, Peter Guillam portrayed with a callow vulnerability by the excellent Benedict Cumberbatch who I'm justifiably beginning to have a major crush on.

I also spent a lot of time admiring the languorous beauty of the Victorian world that Holmes and Watson traipse around in. This smoky, overcast, almost dingy vision of London is so beautifully and painstakingly rendered that I can't help but determine that this is to be the exact setting for the stories in my mind when I next read them.

Sadly, the movie is only a fraction of what it could have been. I sat through it the whole time thinking what it would have been like without the naughty innuendo and the grating slow motion fisticuffs and well, the surprising lack of suspense.

At the diametrically opposite end of the spectrum lay Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Now, this film builds up suspense like no spy thriller you've ever seen. Unlike other stylised spy movies, this one has effectively three gunshots and one made me flinch as the blood splattered the grubby wall covered with flowery wallpaper while another underlined who loved whom and who betrayed whom.

It's a film you watch with your body and mind on high alert. This is a world of secrets and lies, illusions and half-truths, misplaced loyalties and unexpected betrayals. Here spies aren't flashy like James Bond or Ethan Hunt, but deceptively quiet watchers and whisperers, their espionage involving coded telegrams and tapped telephones rather than car-chases and hand-to-hand combat.

I can almost imagine Holmes nodding his head in approval of the inobtrusively stolid and cerebral mystery-solving Smiley, an infinitely better successor to Holmes than the brawling wisecracking ruffian that Downey plays. I have absolutely no doubt which movie Holmes himself would choose to watch.

After coming out of the cinema hall on Sunday afternoon, stepping into the cheerful winter sunlight, I shivered a little certainly not from the cold weather, mostly thankful that I wasn't around in the days of the Cold War.

While the idea that history repeats itself lies at the muddled core of the Sherlockian adventure, a lesson that Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy chillingly imparts inspite of its gentle nostalgia is that the past really is a foreign country, and one should explore it carefully.


IceMaiden said...

I did a LOTR extended version marathon all night and all of Sunday with the guy and best friends. Legendary really! :)

S. Susan Deborah said...

All my New Years are spent in the Church. At the stroke of 12, my family and I are tucked in the church. I like it that way.

Glad to read of your New Year beginning, Karishma.

Hope the year is a wonderful one for you in every sphere of your life.

Joy always,

Tangled up in blue... said...

IceMaiden, wow! Now that's quite the way to bring in the new year. I've always wanted to a LOTR marathon! Happy New Year to you! :)

Susan, I also think spending new year's with family is wonderful. It's what I've been doing since I was a kid. We'd go out some place to watch a nice movie, then get dinner and ice-cream, come home and watch tv till the clock struck twelve and slept off after wishing people at midnight. :)

Arumugam said...

A very happy new year to you Karishma!

Its so comforting to know that there are people like me.People give me a strange look if I tell them I had a peaceful New years eve and was NOT drunk,sloshed and lying on some dance floor:-)

I had the same dual movie plan too:-) Tinker tailor followed by MI 4.Now that was quite some difference:D

I love movies themed around cold war espionage,GDR/Stasi and Mossad.They are so thrilling compared to the ones with tech overload.I never get tired of movies like Munich,Lives of others,Walk on water and the like and watch them atleast twice a yr:-)

Astha said...

Even I've heard that Tinker Tailor requires a lot of concentration! Can't wait to see it now!! :)

Happy New Year! :D

Tangled up in blue... said...

Arumugam, I'll tell you a little secret. My grand-dad actually had this belief that what you do at the start of the new year is what you'll do the whole year-round. So, if you get drunk and fall down, you'll spend your entire year doing that so I just choose to read a nice book or talk with a friend instead which is a pleasant activity really. ;)

And I did that MI4 last week with Don 2 and I realised both Tom Cruise and SRK are at similar phases in their career, both 40-plus superstars with a past record of romantic films, now reinventing themselves with a worldclass action film. I think I can't help comparing any two movies I watch in close proximity to each other. :D

Wish you a fabulous new year ahead, Arumugam! :)

And I love World War II movies myself. It's a very interesting time period in history for me to revisit. But the Cold War is a little bit unfamiliar. Munich and The Lives of Others are brilliant movies. I haven't seen Walk on Water but I now intend to. :)

Tangled up in blue... said...

Astha, Happy New Year to you!!! :) Yeah, it does require that your attention not wander much, and it is a very demanding film that way. But at the end, it rewards you very richly for your patience and concentration. :) People kept telling me it was hard to follow and complex, but I really didn't think so. It was fairly easy to follow with all those fantastic actors doing a wonderful job of distinguishing these characters with just a line or a look or a gesture.

Also, they've pulled off a real casting coup. It's chock full of the best of current British acting talent. It's got John Hurt at the top, followed by Gary Oldman, Toby Jones, Simon McBurney, Colin Firth and Ciaran Hinds in the middle followed by Tom Hardy and Benedict Cumberbatch representing the great young actors.

It's a treat to just watch them all in one single brilliant movie.

Gustaf Valström said...

Kari you watched Sherlock Holmes after all your protestations?! ;)) The only good thing I can say about it is that it was definitely better than the first one. And that was chiefly because of Stephen Fry as Mycroft which was a genius casting decision I think.

And it's interesting that you should mention Peter Guillam as having vulnerability. I thought the same actually.

You're probably too young to have seen the old BBC series they made out of the book. In his earlier incarnation, Guillam was a bad-tempered ladies man - a bit of a bastard really. They changed the character so that his audacious flirting is now a sort of a disguised overcompensating for his secret homosexuality. And Cumberbatch did a great job with the role - he does this thing where he does this fake smile but with such fervour that you can tell the person opposite him is buying it completely. I think he'll join the pantheon of Brit acting royalty in a couple decades.

Another similarity to add to your set. Both Smiley and Sherlock are also unlucky in love in their respective films. Smiley is cuckolded by his beloved wife while Downey, Jr. had to deal with dead Irene Adler's fluttering handkerchief for one very painful scene.

Gustaf Valström said...

Oh and I finally managed to get a week off! Isn't that brilliant luck? Good luck with your exam on Sunday though I still contend you don't need it in the least. :))

Tangled up in blue... said...

Yes, Gustaf, I caved in! :D You know, I always hoped they'd get Stephen Fry to play House's older brother, sort of like a Mycroft but now that is unlikely to happen sadly.

And Tomas Alfredson's kept everything so understated and restrained that it took me a while to realise that that older man Guillam sends away was actually his lover. In fact, the idea struck me only when he started sobbing in grief. So quiet the whole thing was, completely shorn of any melodrama.

And I was a little sad they killed off Irene Adler. I can't wait to see how the character shapes up in BBC's Sherlock! Why are they making us wait this long?

And yay for you! Now you can do a proper birthday party. :) Thanks for the luck, I shall need all the good luck I can get for Sunday. ;)

Antara said...

I sometimes watch these movies over and over again, simply for the way they create the scenes of an overcast London sky.

Foggy, mysterious and deliberate, much like Holmes himself.

DocPriya said...

nice way to spend new years ever.. My hubby is a great fan of movie too.. And he spent his new years eve watching some animated movie.. Followed by another movie. He was so engrossed and immersed in watching the movie that he forgot to even wish us all at 12 !!!

Tangled up in blue... said...

Antara, how well you say that! Aah, Holmes! I have never been more in awe of any man. :)

DocPriya, my friends actually invited me over to watch Harry Potter on tv at midnight and we got so engrossed it was ten minutes past midnight that we realised it was time to wish each other. :D

Kunal said...

I have not seen Sherlock Holmes..yes..I know..I am way over due to watch that one... :P

But, I did saw Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy after reading this post..and I must thank you for this one...what an amazing film....Gary Oldman is such an underrated actor..he just lifts every film he is in...

I really admire how you connect the two movies in this post...and I am really looking forward to watching Holmes and Watson in action.. :-)

Have a great year ahead..

Tangled up in blue... said...

Thank you, Kunal! I'm glad you liked the's going into my list of all-time favourites for sure! :) And I completely agree about Gary Oldman, he's been in a lot of my favourite films for years - playing Commissioner Gordon in Nolan's Batman films and Sirius Black in the Harry Potter films but this movie is all his own. You have a fabulous year, too! :)