Movie Review – They Might be Giants (1971)

George C. Scott gives a commanding performance in They Might be Giants, a film about a man, Justin, who, after his wife dies, convinces himself that he is Sherlock Holmes. When his brother attempts to get him committed Holmes is placed under the examination of a Dr. Mildred………Watson, played by Joanne Woodward, and as she spends more time with her patient she gets more involved in his pursuit of the master of crime – Professor Moriarty. 

I did have most of a review written up but it got lost, so here we go for the second time. This film is a comedy but it is also laced with tragedy. It depicts a lot of ordinary people who long for excitement and adventure, much like you and I, I imagine, so when they encounter Holmes they’re swept up in his cause even though they know that he can’t actually be Holmes. Even Dr. Watson gets more and more submerged into the fantasy. I like the question it poses – is it really a bad thing if we reinvent ourselves, after all, isn’t the world a better place for having Holmes? 

However, where there’s a Holmes there must be a Moriarty and Holmes is well aware that taking on the criminal empire of the mastermind is going to lead to an inexorable end. The title refers to Don Quixote, and like him we are engaged in Holmes’ quest and we want him to succeed even though there is no Moriarty. It’s a very meta-film in some ways, as it alludes to concepts of the desire to root for a hero and concepts of justice and morality. There’s plenty of insightful things going on, one of which is when the Westerns end at the cinema Holmes frequents. He saw them as epitomes of justice, so when they end it’s as though he realizes his own end is approaching, and there’s nothing he can do about it.

The ending is beautiful, tragic and very thoughtful. For those wanting a clear conclusion you’re not going to get it. The ending is left to interpretation which could be somewhat jarring at first. However, when I thought back to the picture it actually struck me as perfect, and it made me think about the rest of the film and what it actually meant. There are plenty of layers to uncover and I think it would lend itself to repeated watches. Overall though it’s just an entertaining, endearing film, and I think it taps into an innate desire to be more than we are, and to turn our lives into legends.  

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