Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Chess Game of Prof. Moriarty & Sherlock Holmes As Well As Notations on Plastic Surgery

Since its beginning, chess has been the great equalizer since it is only by wits that opponents can battle; the size of an army doesn't matter, the vastness of fortune, the physical strength of one against another, beauty or privilege of birth have no bearing on the outcome of the game; everything begins in perfect balance and in a state of equality, with one exception: a player's ability to "play."
Knights Templar playing chess, 1283.
In Game Theory, the rules of a game will dictate who the winner is, for example, in basketball, it will usually be the team with the tallest players due to rules and regulations of the height of the backboard, ergo, the tallest players are closest to the basket and have a mathematical advantage in a greater percentage rate of achieving scores. However, philosopher Jacques Derrida noted that singular difference between the games children play and the games adults play: play itself. "Play" can either be an absence of rules (children do not have the experience necessary to learn how to create rules which will provide them with an edge over their opponent) or it is the creative interpretation of the rules and seeing "holes" in the rules to accommodate an advantage which a player has to counter-balance the advantages the rules gives to the opponent. The shorter team in basketball, for example, may be more crafty in getting the taller team to make fouls, thereby achieving more free throw shots to even their disadvantage of height. 
Stockholm, a chess game with death.
This is why a chess game between Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris) in A Game of Shadows not only accentuates the talents of both opponents, but provides a basis for the entire film, in other words, Moriarty and Holmes are not only playing chess at the castle in Switzerland, but throughout the entire film. While all the footage of the chess game did not make the final edit of the film, it is based on the real-life chess game challenge of Bent Larsen and Tigran Petrosian when they met in 1966 in Santa Monica and Larsen was white and won the match (if you are really interested in the game, scroll down that page the link takes you to, there is great commentary on the moves!).
One shot of the chess board during the game of Larsen and Petrosian and the state of the pieces; A Game of Shadows made variations on this game and, of course, not the entire game that was filmed made the final cut.
What is so unusual about the match was Larsen's willingness to sacrifice his queen to win, yet that is exactly the style Larsen epitomized: according to Samuel Reshevsky in Great Chess Upsets, Larsen "is a firm believer in the value of surprise. Consequently, he often resorts to dubious variations in various openings. He also likes to complicate positions even though it may involve considerable risk. He has a great deal of confidence in his game and fears no one. His unique style has proven extremely effective against relatively weak opponents but has not been too successful against top-notchers." Although Larsen seems to have beaten everyone at least once, including Bobby Fisher when no one else could, Reshevsky seems to be basing that last comment upon the fact that Larsen was the only top notch and world class player who lost to a computer in a chess match.
Chess Grandmaster Bent Larsen. He was diabetic which could easily influence his physical ability to play a game, against Bobby Fischer, for example, and his poor physical condition could take a toll on his game.
And what of the opponent, the Armenian Tigran Petrosian?
His nickname was the "Iron Tigran" because of his firm belief in safety and impenetrable defense. American chess grandmaster Bobby Fischer said it would be easier to win the Soviet Chess tournament than to beat Petrosian once. Of his own style, Petrosian said, "I'm absolutely convinced that in chess – although it remains a game – there is nothing accidental. And this is my credo. I like only those chess games, in which I have played in accordance with the position requirements... I believe only in logical and right game."
Chess Grandmaster Tigran Petrosian who played a "dull" game. He was deaf and had to wear a hearing aid which effected his playing; in Seville, he and his opponent played in a noisy street, which hampered his opponent's game but not Petrosian's so he was able to win. Another time, Petrosian asked an opponent for a draw and the opponent declined. A few moves later, the opponent renewed the offer for the draw but Petrosian kept playing and went on to win the game; he had turned off his hearing aid and did not hear the renewal for a draw.
Why are these things that matter?
Intuitively, it furthers the character development of both Holmes and Moriarty to see their respective attack/defense strategies and how it's their personalities (and what the viewers want from their hero) justifying their roles as "hero" and "villain" (the following has been re-written based on a mistake I made but was generously corrected by a reader). But why is Holmes the black player and Moriarty the white player? White always has the first move. In the actual chess game taking place on the castle terrace, Moriarty does have the first move, however, this seems to accentuate ways in which Moriarty is willing to cheat off the board to provide an even greater advantage of the first move and neutralize black''s defense strategy.
Director Guy Ritchie discussing the scene with Jared Harris and Robert Downey Jr. I have noted before how the chess board, on the table between Harris and Downey, reflects the "chess board" in the ballroom behind Ritchie, where the "real game" of bishop vs bishop will take place in an effort to prevent world war.
White's first move: Moriarty puts a heavy fur cloak on Holmes; the fur, from an  animal, reveals that Moriarty has tried to "clothe" Holmes in his animal passions and appetites. This gives Moriarty an advantage by bringing the idealistic Holmes (willing to go against the animal instinct of self-preservation to the ideal level of self-sacrifice) to a less-heroic plane and a more human one. Secondly, "protecting" Holmes from the cold will help to dull his senses so he won't be as alert. In 300, the future King Leonides battles the wolf in the dead of winter wearing nothing but a loin cloth, so his senses will be heightened. In the 1985 Steven Spielberg thriller Young Sherlock Holmes, Holmes (Nicholas Rowe) never wears a coat although it's winter and Watson always wears his (please see my post The Identity Of Shadows: Young Sherlock Holmes for more details). Irene Adler uses the same technique when in Sherlock Holmes she breaks into Holmes' apartment and tempts him with dates from Jordan, walnuts and olives (appealing to his appetites will aid her in getting him to do what she wants; Holmes, knowing this, checks the safe to make sure his "senses" are safe from her influence).
The important "real game" occurring within the ballroom involves Moriarty's and Homes' bishops: Moriarty has Moran and Rene, and Holmes has Watson and Simza, which draws interesting parallels. Simza and Rene are brother and sister, related by blood, whereas Watson and Moran are brother in arms, both having served for the British army in Afghanistan. Just as Holmes at the chess board has to guess Moriarty's next move, so Watson inside the ball room has to guess Rene's next move. This is how an interesting case of plastic surgery "plays into" Moriarty's and Holmes' game.
Simza, the gypsy fortune-teller whose brother Rene is going to assassinate a dignitary and start a world war for Moriarty. Her being a "fortune-teller" is much like a chess player, who must see their opponent's moves "in the future" if they are going to win a game. As Watson, Simza and Holmes are getting their horses and about to cross the border to pursue Moriarty, Simza takes Watson's hat saying, "Too English," and puts it on herself, giving Watson the hat she wears. This isn't merely a costume change, Simza knows she has to "start thinking" as Holmes and Watson are thinking (the hats, resting on the head, symbolize the thoughts) and giving Watson her hat will aid Watson so he will be thinking in terms of survival that only the gypsies know. Whereas Moriarty did a full facial reconstruction on Rene, Simza requires only to change her thinking pattern to be a match for her brother.
In chess, there is a move called Promotion which means that a pawn successfully getting to the back of the board gets promoted to any piece, usually a queen. Rene, for Moriarty, is like a bishop, however, once Watson successfully "captures" Rene (as a piece on the game board) Rene is promoted to serving Holmes as evidence against Moriarty's crimes and intentions; this is almost like a "double plastic surgery," because plastic surgery changes our appearance, Holmes has done a plastic surgery on Rene, changing his identity from Moriarty's "bishop" to Holmes' queen.
Holmes' "web of conspiracy" in the background  and what used to be Watson's "examination room" when he was seeing patients there; Holmes, now, sees his patient, Europe on the brink of war, while reading the medical reports, crime reports of important people dying and what kind of symptoms that is producing in a weak atmosphere. The web of conspiracy resembles the game of chess because Holmes has to discover what move Moriarty will make before he's going to make it.
When Moran, Moriarty's other bishop, takes out Rene after Rene's failure to complete the assassination, Holmes has lost "an important piece," but mirrors Larsen's game against Petrosian when Holmes says, "A winning strategy sometimes necessitates a sacrifice," because, in this game, Larsen famously sacrificed his queen and, while Rene had been promoted for Holmes to capital evidence, he's lost Rene but has prevented war.
Which brings us to the endgame.
If a player's position and ability to defend his king, or win the game, is at a point obviously hopeless, it is bad etiquette to continue playing the game. While Holmes captures Moriarty's king by achieving checkmate (thereby reclaiming the "king" lost at the Paris Opera, explained below) Moriarty comes back and tells Holmes that Holmes isn't playing against him, Holmes is "fighting the human condition" driving Europe towards war, regardless of what Moriarty does or doesn't do, and in many respects, this is Moriarty's endgame against Holmes, telling Holmes that he can't possibly beat the natural laws of physics and motion bringing the civilized Western world towards self-destruction.
This is a great shot of Holmes because, whether intentionally or not, it corresponds interestingly with Young Sherlock Holmes from 1985 when the "future" Moriarty would leave a similar scratch on the exact same spot of young Holmes' cheek during a dual. Regardless, Holmes and Moriarty meet for the first time in this scene, which was brought about in an interesting way: post Watson's wedding, Moran waits for Holmes and "proposes" that they meet face-to-face; as Watson has been wedded, Holmes becomes "engaged" with Moriarty. The mathematical equations on the blackboard in the background demonstrates simultaneously both Moriarty's weakness and strength: his strength lies in his genius level of calculation and numerical probability, however, relying on numbers to "tell him the future" and everything he needs to know, he mis-calculates by leaving out the human element, the random element, that which is left to chance: Simza. The letter from Rene to Simza that Holmes intercepts from Irene appears to be forgotten by Moriarty, but he underestimates the power of Simza's love for her brother and that fraction of a second that her interference, her interceding on behalf of the assassination victim, that will upset Moriarty's plans. Whereas Moriarty has made a great study of everything that can be measured, Holmes has diligently studied what matters most: humanity.
What does it mean, Holmes pulling Moriarty off the cliff with him, into the waterfall?
In chess terms, you could call it a stalemate.
As I stated earlier, Moriarty putting the fur cloak on Holmes was a bet that Holmes would want to preserve himself, but Holmes is willing to sacrifice himself, that is why, after they have gone over the ledge, Holmes has an expression of meditation and calmness whereas Moriarty screams and his face contorts in fear and even anger. While this was the most unexpected move Holmes could have made (surprise to Moriarty), it is a sad realization of the limitations of justice: Moriarty has covered his tracks and there is no evidence against him; even with his enormous fortune seized, Moriarty--a court being unable to convict him--would go free and within little time re-build; so, again, like Larsen, Holmes believes a "winning strategy necessitates sacrifice" and to win back the fate of Europe for Europe, free from manipulation, Holmes breaks the stalemate to "win" the game.
After making a dinner date with Irene, Holmes is attacked by her four "escorts" and I am quite sure, although I can't prove it after only seeing the film two times, that each of these assailants symbolizes the forces at work in the film, and how they will all converge against Holmes but he will be able to overcome them. I think working out this scene is a great excuse to see the film for a third time...
Chess dominates A Game of Shadows.
The obvious example is when Moriarty and Holmes meet face-to-face for the first time and Moriarty asks Holmes, "Are you sure this is a game you want to play?" and Holmes responds, "I am afraid you would lose." Later, as Holmes desperately tries to find the bomb Moriarty has planted to explode, and Holmes erroneously goes to the Paris Opera, beneath the stage, Holmes finds Moriarty's black king chess piece; why? Reader Trish has asked why Moriarty was willing to surrender his king, however, I think it's the exact opposite: Moriarty tells Holmes that he has captured Holmes' king and the game is over, that "king" being the German gun manufacturer that Moran, at that very moment, is assassinating as the bomb goes off in another part of Paris. That was a "piece" Moriarty needed to capture, the gun factory, in order to proceed with his plan and get the atmosphere right for war but Holmes, in saving the ambassador Rene was determined to assassinate, "recaptures" that king and replaces the king Moriarty had taken with the king Holmes checkmates.
One of the complaints critics have about A Game of Shadows is all of Holmes' disguises; given, however, the importance of plastic surgery to the strategy of Moriarty, when, for example, Holmes disguises himself as an opium smoker following Irene, and the "four escorts" begin taking off the hair pieces and elements of the disguise (as if it were Mission Impossible and the "mask-making machine" because Tom Cruise pulls off some facial parts in Ghost Protocol demonstrating how unstable our projected identity of others can be, which definitely includes a film such as The Skin I Live In) we still see Holmes being revealed. With Rene's plastic surgery, however, it is his real "anarchist" self being revealed even as he tries to hide it with the surgery and disguise at the peace summit as one of the ambassadors. The role "shadows" play in A Game of Shadows is how a shadow is only a "shadow" of our true self, and the game is to find the "real self": Moriarty being a professor is only a shadow of his real identity, and Mary Morstan Watson, being the new wife of a doctor and a reader of detective novels, is only a shadow of her true self, she is also capable with a handgun and in the decoding and seizing of  enormous bank accounts. In the picture above, what would (again) in another film be just a costume change, becomes--because of the context and pacing of the film--a type of "plastic surgery" for Simza as she goes from her gypsy self to a lady at the peace summit, in disguise and yet, her real self is revealed in the deep red color of the dress she wears, red as the color of love, which is why she is there, love of her brother and wanting him to not go through with the assassination.
What is so interesting is how intimidating that scene is yet Holmes is hardly effected.
Recall, if you will, during Watson's honeymoon and Holmes pushing Mary out of the train and Holmes telling Watson he "timed it perfectly?" Holmes' escape from the anarchists' cellar and tracing the clues to the Paris Opera was Moriarty "timing it perfectly" and demonstrating to Holmes how easy it was for Moriarty to "read" Holmes next move (like Holmes reading Simza's fortune in the cards) and lead Holmes wherever Moriarty wanted him to go; so in my humble estimation, it was quite brave and confident of Holmes to challenge Moriarty to that game of blitz chess.
Why is A Game of Shadows based on chess?
It's a creative but exact way to demonstrate that no piece is unimportant, even though motions might be limited, when played well (such as Holmes blowing his pipe ashes into Moriarty's face, what role can ashes play? the role of play itself in creative interpretation and application) it can make all the difference, and I think this is the greatness of Simza's character in the film: a gypsy, politically speaking (a pawn), is the exact opposite of someone like Moriarty (a king), who has all the power and fortune and affluence in the world, yet her power of love for her brother and doing what she can to aid Holmes and Watson, undermines and brings down the grandiose plans of a mighty giant
N.B.--I still have the Bent Larsen book on chess coming to me, and will read through it; if I can find additional information I think you will be interested in, I will be sure to post it herein and make a note that I have added information to the chess game for those interested; if you have any comments and elaborations you would like to make, please use the comment forms as this is an area of great interest for fans of the film!
During this part of the film, after Holmes has entered Watson's car, Holmes' red lipstick is seriously smeared and, both times I have seen the film, I can't help but think if The Joker in Batman starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson; given the theme of plastic surgery running throughout the film, it is likely that because The Joker had plastic surgery in Batman, nuances of identity-altering surgery is being referenced to provide us with additional examples for comparison of the disguises Holmes wears and the plastic surgery Rene undergoes.
Here are all the posts I have made on the Sherlock Holmes theme:
Blitzchess & Chaos: Sherlock Holmes A Game Of Shadows
Irene Adler vs Mary Morstan: the Women Of Sherlock Holmes a comparative analysis of how the characters of Irene Adler and Mary Morstan change from Sherlock Holmes of 2009 to A Game of Shadows
Sherlock Holmes & the Temple Of the Four Orders the 2009 Guy Ritchie hit
Sherlock Holmes: Watson's Gambling Habit, the Banking Crisis of 1890 & London Bridge how Ritchie's 2009 film uses Watson's gambling habit to reflect the stock market collapse of 1890
The Identity Of Shadows: Young Sherlock Holmes analysis on the 1985 Steven Spielberg thriller
Gestures: the Significance Of the Insignificant for Rathbone and Bruce fans; in The Scarlet Claw, there was an "accidental" bumping of the table and I discuss the reason the director knew what he was doing.