Movies · TV

Life of the Mind: How Sherlock Captures Thought on Camera

By  · Published on January 12th, 2017

Editing as a revelation of a character’s deductive process.

Making a show like the BBC’s Sherlock is a tricky proposition. On the one hand, yes, you’ve got the world’s greatest detective as your central character, so there’s ample opportunity to have especially-confounding cases come his way for the solving, but on the other hand, what’s special about Sherlock isn’t just that he solves crimes, it’s the way he solves them, using a unique deductive technique – the method of loci, or “mind palace,” as Holmes himself puts it – that is born entirely of his intellect. Something like this makes for fascinating literature, but if mishandled onscreen it can come across as either extraordinarily boring, or shamelessly gimmicky. Sherlock, however, avoids both by bringing Holmes’ rich inner monologue to life via visuals and editing techniques that manifest his revelations and the path he takes to reach them.

In the latest essay from Evan Puschak, a.k.a. The Nerdwriter – who last week was named one of Forbes 30 people under 30 to watch in the realm of media and logged his millionth subscriber on YouTube, congrats! – these visuals and techniques are examined and explained using as an example a three-minute and 42-second clip from the latest episode, “The Lying Detective” (which just aired this last Sunday, so if you’re not all caught up, maybe bookmark us and come back when you are).

While Puschak is aiming to explain this one facet of the series, what he’s also revealing is the central allure of Sherlock over something like, say, Elementary, which is more of a straightforward procedural: we don’t just get to watch the world’s greatest detective at work, we get to deduce with him, we aren’t only witnesses but also participants in his intellectual process, which in turn makes Holmes and his work more engaging, almost to the point of being interactive.

As we stand now on the verge of what could be Sherlock’s end – the last episode of season four airs this weekend and a fifth has not yet been ordered, and given stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman’s increasing popularity and thus busy schedules, it likely won’t be, at least not anytime soon— this is the perfect time to reflect upon the unique intelligence of the show, which is in many opinions the most effective and engaging realization of the character and his particular quirks ever put to film. Sherlock’s is a life of the mind, and Sherlock brings that mind to life in the most ingenious and unexpected ways. Here’s how:

Novelist, Screenwriter, Video Essayist