So here we have a real, famous, old man (Ian McKellen at 76) playing the part of a fictional famous very old man – fast sliding into senility (Sherlock Holmes at 93). A not-famous old man (Frank Rubenfeld at 78) is writing this review.

The plot thickens, since Holmes is portrayed as a real detective who has become famous thanks to his companion Dr. Watson, who wrote many novels about Holmes ingeniously solving one lurid case after another.

The female heart throb in this film is named Anna, and if her life and fate remind you of another literary tragic figure, then so be it.

Despite these serpentine concatenations, and the dark nature of much of the content, (a visit to post-war Hiroshima is included), I left the movie feeling cheered and pleased.

Later, I reflected on what it was about the film and myself that precipitated this pleasant outcome. I delighted in watching McKellen take on this role with the gusto, delicacy, and skill that he did. A real treat. A relief from his playing the arch villain in the X Men series, where he shuttles from one invulnerable stance to another (anger, pride, contempt, etc.). The range he shows in this film… compassionate caring, gleeful appreciation, senile stupor, ecstasy .. along with hard, superior stances .. evoked my admiration and appreciation for the way he excels at what he does.

Then there is a boy of ten or so in the movie .. not physically cute or attractive in any standard kind of way. A light shines thru him nonetheless – the light of an alive, engaged intellect and a boundless curiosity. It doesn’t take Holmes long to bond with him. To see a movie where a mentoring, loving relationship between an old man and someone much younger than him is celebrated… moved me.

Many scenes were filmed depicting the natural beauty of the white cliffs of Dover, and the grassy lea surrounding Holmes’ stone and wood retirement cottage. Indeed, ensconced by that natural beauty in a memorable scene, we witness McKellen/Holmes give himself over, body and soul, to a rush of spiritual ecstasy.

The scene reminded me both of the many wonderful hours I have spent on the cliffs and coasts of Marin and Sonoma counties, and of a more recent experience. Standing under my kitchen skylight as the morning light streamed in, my voice rose, as did the rest of me, and I sang an ancient Hebrew prayer of thanksgiving.

When an old man can feel grateful, that is a good thing. And finally, the film movingly dealt with the Western male conundrum examined by Tolstoy and Freud among others: how much value should a man place on love and connection vs. reason and achievement? The lesson drawn from “Mr. Holmes” is that one can keep deepening the heart-head interaction as long as both continue to function. Encouragement and support that I welcome.

The fictional Mr. Holmes of this film, and the real Ian McKellen who has by all accounts had a loving relationship with his fellow-actor Derek Jacobi for many decades, are examples of the deep satisfactions that may spring from love, reason, and achievement all being present in a man’s life.

Enough said …

With Best Wishes … Frank Rubenfeld

Frank Rubenfeld, Ph.D. is a BAGI Trainer and Faculty Member. For more, go to