Framing as “Evidence”:
Science of DeductionArt of Interpretation
My first principle of meta writing is keeping a clear distinction between the facts and my interpretation of them. Some things are objectively true, obviously, but what they mean is, to a very large degree, subjective. Meaning changes given the context in which facts are read and the agenda of the reader which itself is often half-baked but most certainly fluctuates. Some “objective facts” carry with them heavy cultural significance and communicate with their audience on an affective level. Facts can launch a set of gut reactions that “we” as a culture basically share. Basically. So what are the facts of this frame?
- The rule of thirds divides the frame horizontally along two obvious visual points: the top of the frame and Sherlock’s line of sight.
- The gap between the interior of the wall to John’s right and its exterior darkens the top third of the frame thereby focusing our attention on the bottom 2/3 of the frame.
- Sherlock stands right down the middle of the line that bisects the bottom 2/3 of the frame. Mary’s head lands to the left of his field of vision while John lands to the right.
- Sherlock occupies two quadrants of the bottom 2/3 of the frame. Mary and John stand (mostly) in different quadrants of the frame. Their heads occupy different quadrants. Mary’s right shoulder is in the same horizontal line as John’s head and vice versa so they aren’t completely sectioned off.
- Mary cannot see Sherlock at all. John can see (at least) half of him.
So those are the facts. But as I said there’s always a cultural component at play when we attempt to decipher their meaning. In my culture the dark stripes at the top and the bottom of the frame tell me to focus my attention on the middle. That’s a widespread enough code that the cinematographer can count on it like I can count on the fact that you’ll understand the structure of this sentence. You have to understand English, of course. (Contrary to popular belief not everyone does.) In languages that share a common syntax with English this sentence would translate pretty easily. Those who speak languages that don’t share syntax with English have a whole lot more conceptualizing to do in order to understand my factual meaning. Sometimes we have to do multiple kinds of translation to understand each other’s literal meaning. (That’s why Google Translate still sucks.) Not everybody will focus their attention to the bottom 2/3 of the screen automatically. To understand the show in its own syntactical terms you must, but we can’t assume that’s a universal tendency. It’s a fact that the frame is arranged along the lines of the rule of thirds, but we cannot take it for granted that this means that all readers will react the same way to the proportions even though the division is mathematical (based on ϕ, the golden ratio, aka the golden section).
Which leads me to the next level of interpretation. None of the three characters are in alignment. While at the moment I write this I personally take this to mean that there’s great conflict happening amongst them (this reading is informed by the context of the plot, but the grid reinforces this notion to me), I could be persuaded to look at it differently. I could say Sherlock is the center of a balance and Mary and John, the weights. So that brings me to my next level of interpretation.
If Sherlock is the center and John and Mary weigh at either side of him I could say they’re a unit the three of them. I’m a pro-choice feminist and I don’t count the fetus in Mary’s womb as a person. So yes, for me it is the three of them. I could also say John and Mary are almost completely divided, but their shoulders tell me that they still share the same space to a degree. Metaphorically that could be the shared space of their parentage, the space of the fetus, the potential baby. On the other hand they could be so divided that the only thing connecting them is Sherlock who occupies space with both of them. I could say he understands both their points of view even though Mary doesn’t look at him and John can only see him in partiality. I could say Sherlock has Mary’s back. Or I could say he’s trapping her in the hall way so she can’t escape. Both things, even, could be true. So now, after thinking about it I don’t know what to believe! But I’m writing so I’ll CHOOSE an interpretation, one that best suits me right here, right now. By the time you read this it may be invalid to me.
When I get lost I go back to the facts. There are facts we cannot ascertain even though they’d be useful. Who is looking at whom? Is John regarding Mary or Sherlock or both. (Or neither?!) But even if we did know what would that tell us?
And that’s the next level of interpretation. The unspoken. A gaze can say everything silently yet nothing precisely. This is why Sherlock and John have a danger code, “Vatican Cameos.” With lives at stake they don’t take a chance that the other will misinterpret a glance. That leads me to speculate that John and Sherlock have determined that they have, in the past, misunderstood each other’s physical cues and that they expect that they would do so in the future. I could speculate happily about this all day long. That is one way that I form head canons. Which leads me to the last level of interpretation I want to address in this post— the agenda of the reader (or in this case the meta writer).
I started off with empirical facts and I was cheerfully confused along the way about what they meant until the end when I arrived at Johnlock. I think it’s a pretty convincing point that Sherlock and John can’t flawlessly read each other’s physical body language or each other’s minds. I ship them so for me this is exciting “evidence.” But I got there not by looking at what’s in front of me in the screencap of this grim hallway. I got there by a whimsical leap of logic made possible by my readerly erotics. I got there by asking myself what I CAN’T see. In a vacuum my
mindheart will almost always supply Johnlock. So. To my mind, and perhaps ONLY to my mind, my conclusion is not far-fetched. I logically hopped to something true, a fact: John and Sherlock have a code phrase. My happy thoughts about this are mine and I own them and they’re just as valid as your happy (or unhappy) thoughts. Happy thoughts don’t necessarily have squat to do with facts. I prefer, as a writer and a fan, to arrive at my happy Johnlock place by meditating on what most of us viewers can agree to be true things. That’s just how I roll.
Oh wait! Doesn’t everyone everywhere know, then, that Sherlock and John don’t know they’re madly in love because they can’t read it in each other’s physical gestures? No. No they don’t. That’s a conclusion of mine and of the people who think like I do, or who I convince to think like I do. Everyone else? Nope, they’re not (necessarily) deluded. They’re not (necessarily) bigots or homophobes. They disagree with your interpretations.
There are facts. And there are many, many, many factors that influence their interpretation. But it’s also important to realize that we ALL think our viewpoint is universal at one time or another. We’re self-centered we humans. And very often, very, very often we mistake our interpretations for facts. If you care about the distinction between the two you must be vigilant. Always.
If we all agreed on the nuanced meanings of Sherlock I doubt the fandom would be so vital and so global in spite of the cultural codes we’re all navigating. And for that I applaud the artistry of the people who make the show for all its glories and its flaws. Those value judgements too, are subjective. No matter which facts you base them upon.