Sherlock’s rational investigative cynicism and Moriarty’s organized chaos: it is on this fatal opposition that most of the episodes of Sherlock (2010) stand; the contemporary adaptation of Conan Doyle’s novels produced by the BBC with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman is in many ways an unprecedented entertainment masterpiece. The ability to penetrate the traditional genius of Sherlock Holmes, the reinterpretation in a current key of issues raised in his novels and the use of technology to solve dramatic mysteries are just some of the strengths of this show, now in its fourth season.
The genius of Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat (the latter also involved in some Doctor Who screenplays) was instrumental not only in the ability to brilliantly write the brilliant investigator’s sociopathy but also for the intuition of joining an exceptional cast two actors like Cumberbatch and Freeman, different but complementary. Speaking of casting, a good deal of the charisma of supervillain Moriarty could be traced back to the excellent ability that Andrew Scott has shown with intense and sometimes extreme interpretations. The chemistry between Sherlock and Moriarty recalls in some ways the intimate bond that genius and madness entertain, a bond studied at the beginning of the twentieth century by the famous psychiatrist Karl Jaspers, father of phenomenological psychopathology.
The psychic life between norm, genius, and madness
The last question is to know whether a being can shine from the depths of darkness.K. Jaspers
This study is inspired by one of the first attempts at applied psychiatry ever made: when in 1922 the young psychiatrist Karl Jaspers decided to reconstruct the biographical and pathognomonic events of some excellent patients, his attempt was to unravel the mystery in which normality, ingenuity, and madness are intertwined.
The relationship between Sherlock and Moriarty, protagonist and antagonist, is not only canonical because it is a traditional representation of the conflict between Good and Evil; by establishing a fascinating mental chess game, this link is a television expression of the ambiguous nuance that governs psychic life, always in the balance between reason and disorganization.
This subjective and relational nuance, both normal and exceptional. this is what Jaspers tries to investigate in his volume Genio e Follia, the testimony of a method that went beyond diagnostic labels. Retracing Van Gogh’s letters to his brother Theo, the doctor questions the unity of the psyche in all its manifestations at a distance, and not the schizophrenia that afflicted the famous artist. Continuing the reading of the work, we come across delusional episodes by the Dutch painter himself and other famous artists such as Holderlin and Strindberg.
At this point two questions can arise legitimately: assuming as artistic (in the sense of picturesque) the brilliant abnormality of the investigator Sherlock Holmes or the criminal lucidity of Moriarty, what right do we have to insert them in a likely psychiatric deepening like that of Jaspers? And again, starting from the assumption that their actions are the complementary work of a literary spirituality as unique as it is classic, what credit to give to the inspired mind of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the artistic father of the two characters?
Sherlock and Moriarty: the final problem
If it is true that the relationship between Sherlock and Moriarty borders on the canonical fanfiction in some ways, it is also true that this is made possible by the complementary ways of being of their personalities: the mutual exchange that their mental challenge causes is so exciting precisely because it is interesting is to witness the steps of this challenge and their evolution.
The moment when the two find themselves on the edge of the Reichenbach falls occurs after a hit and response lasted several episodes, characterized by a latent continuity that brings the wait for the final act to particularly intense peaks, comes after the two have proclaimed their prestige act after act: Sherlock is now known also thanks to the blog that Watson writes to spread the cases he solved; Moriarty is the famous criminal who committed a series of kidnappings, involving innocent ambassadors and putting the blame on Holmes.
“I want to solve the problem. Our problem. The last problem. Sherlock, the fall will start very soon! But don’t worry. Falling is just like flying. Only once you get there, you can’t go back “
The goal of the nemesis is to frame Sherlock, forcing him to commit suicide to save the people he loves and confirming the suspicions about himself. The final problem is, therefore, the classic moral dilemma, structured to stimulate the spectators’ empathy and curiosity. The intensity of the situation is tangible even in their dialectic, built like a crescendo that within the final scene of the episode reaches its peak when writing allows us to touch the psychic and emotional dynamics that are activating.
In this scene, at the falls, Moriarty’s seductive, altered philosophy of life is exhibited, who accompanied by the notes of Staying Alive denounces all his disappointment for what is ordinary, conventional; a moral that winks at death, at chaotic destructiveness intimate to the Human, is the challenge that Sherlock must solve in his final problem.
Conan Doyle through Jaspers: method and art of deductive yellow
The rich life of Arthur Conan Doyle, raised in a large Scottish family linked to the journalism of the time, finds a turning point when his brilliant results in studies allow him to move to Sheffield to work as a medical assistant for various doctors, some of which are crucial for his career. Once he moved to Birmingham he developed a passion for literature: the character of Sherlock Holmes is inspired by the figure of Dr. Joseph Bell, who taught him the scientific method and who stood out for his deductive skills.
He moved to Portsmouth to open his doctor’s office and it was here that in 1887 he published A Study in Red, the first of many masterpieces starring the investigator. The peculiarity of these stories, as well as that of the series, consists of the narration of Watson: it is always through his thoughts that readers and experimenters notice Sherlock’s extraordinary abilities and his impact in the different phases of the investigations. In his stories, Doyle is Dr. Watson, a former war doctor now on leave; to resume Jaspers’ psychiatric descriptions, the way Sherlock reaches us is that through which his author shows that he perceives him, in all his ordinary normalcy.
The genius and madness, these two faces of the same medal composed of protagonist and antagonist, by Sherlock and Moriarty, is not so much in a phantom autobiographical link with Doyle’s artistic life, as, in this case, in the normal artistic genius of the writer: the source is not so much his life experience, but his ability to work fantastically on the creation of these two brilliant, exceptional and irrational characters, classic icons of the intimately fragmented integrity of the human psyche.