Have been going through the press junket for Sherlock again, as if this is going to help them win an armload of awards tonight. (Must find a live blog or webcast -- the apartment is currently without a TV and we never did have cable.) Honestly, if they're going to keep stubbornly not giving Cumberbatch a BAFTA for anything, he ought to at least have an Emmy or a Globe or something for his mantelpiece. Or an Oscar. Although for that he'll probably have to be in a major story-driven movie where he's not upstaged by the horse.

(No, I haven't seen War Horse. I'm told it came out excellently and I know he's done a lot of interviews for it with internet-favorite Loki Tom Hiddleston, but I try to stay away from depressing things where loads of animals die.)

(Also, I've seen said interviews, and god you'd never guess he was the older one. Hiddleston is my age; Cumberbatch is in his mid-30s somewhere. He's just got this perpetual air of '12-year-old who's never quite sure if it's his turn to talk'. Whereas Hiddles has just not got an off-switch when he's on camera. The Harovians managed to make Cumberbatch into a very well-behaved public schoolboy, but Eton apparently had no such effect on Tom Hiddleston.)

In my meanderings I managed to tumble across this ABC interview, which I hadn't seen before. There's a lot of charming blather in the beginning, notable mostly for Cumberbatch being very dry and English in his humor, and continually forgetting to supply a surname for his costar, who is apparently now just "Martin" in his head, but starting at 3:38, the interviewer asks the question that a lot of people come up with, rather insensitively phrased, "What is wrong with Sherlock Holmes?"


His response is exactly what I've been saying the entire time, thankyouverymuch.

Please note that this is Cumberbatch's own personal impression of the character, not an official quote from the production office. There is apparently nothing in the series bible about Sherlock's past, beyond continuity notes for things that have already been referenced on screen. A fan asked Steven Moffatt once if they'd worked out any backstory for Sherlock and he sort of blinked and said, "No? I'm not even sure I know the backstory for Mark Gatiss, and he's my best friend." Cumberbatch has admitted a few times that he's figured something out strictly for his own edification, and this is evidently it.

Note also that he does not actually answer the question. The phrasing, "Here's the thing," suggests that he doesn't see this as something being wrong with Sherlock, per se, but more just as a sequence leading up to what he is today. All of what he says is a description of Sherlock's behavior, now and in the past, and some conjecture as to what happened because of it -- being much too smart for your age and therefore having no common ground with your cohort is isolating for allistic kids as much as it is for autistic kids, independent of what sorts of other things are whacking around inside your head at the time. And, at the risk of pointing out the obvious, deciding that you don't care about feelings -- particularly that you don't care about anyone else's feelings about you -- is a pretty common response from people whose experience of the world is that no one gives a damn about what they feel.

(Also, speaking just for my own weird talent, the fact that I can read his intention for the character with that amount of precision means he's playing it very true to life. I speak Cinematic just fine, but Cinematic is almost exclusively in the present tense -- things that are specifically conveyed through film convention carry a lot of emotional context for what's going on under the surface of the scene playing right now, but don't usually carry any information about a character's specific past. The combination of the writing and Cumberbatch's performance incorporates a lot of very real behaviors that I have seen from very real people who have, or have had, exactly the same very real interactional issues and undertones that Sherlock does on the show. Sherlock is the extreme end of a very typical pattern of behavior from kids who were way too smart way too early, had a lot of issues because of it, and do not figure it out until much later in life when they run into someone they finally click with. Then they have to go and fix it by basically hitting it repeatedly with their brain until something gives.)

For someone whose entire life is invested in sifting through patterns, it is unspeakably aggravating to be treated by other people as a completely incomprehensible, unknown thing. Incomprehensible means unpredictable; unpredictable means unpatterned; and since almost nothing in the universe is without some sort of pattern, this leads to the conclusion that the other people interacting with you are either too stupid to figure it out, or simply do not care enough about your existence to try.

It's almost more comforting to assume that everyone else is stupid. If they simply lack the ability to figure you out, then it's not necessarily for lack of trying; it's not their fault and it's certainly not your fault that no one has succeeded. Concluding they don't care tends to set in after a few years of the other uncivilized savages children intentionally making your life difficult, and the people who are supposed to be riding herd on them doing nothing about it. People give a lot of lip service to not hurting other people, and also to being fair to everyone; and after a while you start to understand that they like to use the tug-of-war between those two things to play both ends against the middle, and finagle themselves an excuse to simply not get involved. The combination of "oh, aren't you bright, surely you will do good things for the world" and "You're overreacting, you've misinterpreted, if you just ignore them they'll go away" makes you very cynical about everyone's motives for wanting you around, and Sherlock would not be the first to decide that professional braining is obviously his only valuable feature.

To a surprisingly large extent, it does not actually matter whether Sherlock is intended to be autistic. His character arc is not about learning to be "normal". It's about discovering that, despite his best efforts, he does have the capacity to connect emotionally with another person, and that he has met, entirely by accident, someone who makes him desperately want to. John does spend a fair amount of time explaining why other people do the things they do, but their friendship isn't based on him trying to train Sherlock to react the same way; it's developed because John is amazed at Sherlock's strange talent without being terrified of it, and has a genuine interest how Sherlock works in general. He's reframed the process of getting to know someone, which is not something Sherlock much considers, as genuine curiosity, which is something Sherlock is intimately familiar with, and in doing so has sort of accidentally stumbled onto a method of interacting with Sherlock that manages to get both inside his shell and occasionally under his skin.

Sherlock, for his part, is beginning to experience the strange wonder of having someone around who might actually know what he's thinking. He's often oddly inclined to smile at a lot of things John says that most people would find insulting: You risk your life to prove you're clever because you're an idiot, you can't be a fraud because no one could possibly pretend to be that much of a dick all the time. It's not the explicit content that makes him happy -- Sherlock is well aware that most people find him off-putting, and that he makes life difficult for himself with it from time to time. It's the subtext he finds comforting: I have been paying attention to you, and I know what your pattern is.

It makes Sherlock remarkably pleased to feel like he's a solvable problem. And that someone is interested enough to solve him.

Comments

  1. I'm going to come back and read the rest of this post tomorrow or Monday (I can't right now because I am still mortal and I still need sleep), but I just wanted to say one thing.

    Unless you're a huge huge HUGE John Williams/Benedict Cumberbatch*/Tom Hiddleston*/WWI fan, you're not missing much not having seen War Horse.
    It's a bit strange, actually; it starts out like a Disney movie, with the boy falling in love (I kid you not) with the horse Joey and the two of them overcoming all of life's hardships with the power of ~friendship~. And then Joey gets commandeered/bought/something by the military at the start of the war (this is where Benedict and Tom come in, looking very dashing in their WWI officers' uniforms), and 5 minutes later everything is WAR AND DEATH AND DESERTERS GETTING SHOT AND BLOOD AND MUD AND DID I MENTION THE HORROR OF WAR. And then in the last 5 - 10 minutes we're back to Love Conquers All Happy Feel-Good Times.
    It is kind of worth it just for the WWI factor, though, because all the war movies made these days are all about how Amurrika beat the Axis single-handedly (well maybe the Brits helped a little).

    So yes. I look forward to being able to finish the article later, when my brain doesn't feel like it's expanding like bread dough, skull be damned.

    *Who weren't in the movie for more than 15 minutes altogether, IIRC.

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