Last Updated on February 20, 2021 by Sydney Murphy
Netflix’s new film Enola Holmes is a feminist piece that uses certain tropes to enlighten its target audience on the potential of females. While doing so, it also features words of wisdom applicable to college students around the world.
Starring Millie Bobby Brown, this film is a new addition to the Victorian-era detective universe created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Released on September 23, 2020, it focuses on Enola Holmes, the famous Sherlock Holmes’ younger and more ambitious sixteen-year-old sister.
The film’s narrative allows Enola to put her detective work to the test in pursuit of finding her missing mother. The movie contains a multitude of themes — namely that of family, identity, independence, and feminism in the Victorian era.
However, some have questioned how loyal the film’s feminist themes are to the current gender movement, and whether the film contains any nuggets of advice that may be applicable to today’s youth.
“You’ll do very well on your own, Enola.”
Analyzing the film’s use of feminist tropes reveals a connection between the Victorian era and today. As a child, Enola is homeschooled by her mother Eudoria Holmes, who Enola narrates was “not an ordinary mother.”
Enola was not taught to “string seashells or practice my embroidery,” instead, to focus on science, reading, athletics, and critical thinking.
This is an inaccurate portrayal of women in the Victorian era; in the 19th century, girls were encouraged to develop graceful artistic and housekeeping skills with the goal of supporting a husband.
The film goes against this grain by depicting Enola and her mother as vibrant, vigilant women who favored independence.
All the skills taught by Eudoria come into play later as Enola encounters various obstacles in pursuit of finding her mother. Enola’s name, spelt “alone” backwards, is also a testament to the independent streak Eudoria engrained in her daughter.
The decision to display Enola as a character deserving of attention as a protagonist, however, somehow downplays the realism of the narrative.
Both her brothers are portrayed as accomplished and erudite, and yet Enola takes upon the arduous task of finding their mother, despite previously never having left the safety of her home.
“The more I have spoken about feminism, the more I have realized that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating,” admitted Emma Watson at the UN General Assembly in 2014.
While it is excusable to shave off some realism in favor of iconizing a female protagonist, perhaps giving them more time to interact with each other would have been more pleasing instead of simply isolating her experience from theirs.
This would show that the film not only aims to empower young women, but also to teach them about equality. That being said, idealist fantasies can be argued to do more good than harm in the context of this film.
Another crucial observation to be made is that Enola is part of the Holmes family, which provides her with a certain leverage. In addition to having a progressive mother, she also hails from a considerably wealthy and respectable background thanks to her famous brothers.
As a result of this, she has the freedom to pursue certain schools of thought, which may not be the case for other demographics. In comparison, Enola’s jiu-jitsu teacher Edith is forced to hold her classes in a hidden dojo above a café.
“There are two paths you can take, Enola. Yours, or the path others choose for you.”
Despite being a film set in Victorian England and concerning women in the Victorian era, the female characters of influence in Enola Holmes offer nuggets of advice that can be of use to students of a variety of demographics.
One piece of advice Eudoria Holmes gives Enola concerns her autonomy in her life decisions. “There are two paths you can take, Enola. Yours or the path others choose for you,” she says early on in the film.
Such advice from a woman in the 19th century is not only commendable, but also relevant to many today. Millions of adolescents are forced into social or career paths that go against their goals, interests and desires, leading to a variety of problems as they grow older.
A survey conducted by Target Jobs reported that more than half of participating students had their choice of career influenced by their parents. Additionally, almost 70 percent of the parents had attempted to influence their choice of university.
Eudoria makes a firm point about exploring the nooks and crannies of control that let you steer your life in the direction you want it to.
“Paint your own picture, Enola. Don’t be thrown off-course by other people.”
While most students may agree with decisions made by their parents, some are forced down paths not compatible with their own interests or goals.
“Other people” in the context of this quote can also be referring to male influences, which have the power to hinder and redirect worldly issues brought to light by women.
“My mother told me to be a lady. And for her, that meant be your own person, be independent,” said Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
The association of phrases such as “feminine”, “ladylike” and “warm” primarily with females can be brought up here. What Eudoria Holmes considers independence and autonomy, her other son Mycroft sees as “wild” and “dangerous”.
“Perhaps she wants to change the world.”
Sherlock says this to Enola when discussing their mother’s absence, to which Enola responds, “Perhaps it’s a world that needs changing.”
From Nobel Prize laureates like Malala Yousafzai and environmental activists like Greta Thunberg, women’s roles in global issues have been a major concern of the feminist movement, even as a result of other areas of concern.
For instance, with the increasing awareness of the gender dichotomy and the pay gap between men and women, mothers like Pushka in India are paid the equivalent of less than a dollar for the production of goods sold for hundreds of dollars.
A report for the UN Development Program pointed out that while the number of women being paid for work has increased, the work is limited to the informal sector. This does not take into account the hours put into domestic work, in addition to addressing personal issues and goals.
Minor victories have made their way into the narrative, however. In Europe, women were able to achieve paid maternity leave; while in America, some ambitious women have been able to independently make their way up the financial ladder.
Awareness of the polarizing effects of gender dichotomy is also being made more aware through the advent of social media.
“There’ll come a time when you have to make a hard choice. And in that moment, you’ll discover what mettle you truly have — and what you’re prepared to risk for what matters.”
Eudoria Holmes’ words of wisdom to her daughter contain several grains of truth. The beauty of this wisdom, however, is that it can be applied anywhere — to one’s social life, career paths, on self-improvement, and even in relationships.
Every college student is faced with difficult decisions that have the power to make a lasting impact on their lives.
More often than not, however, most students are unaware of the potential within them in tackling their desired life paths. It is also important to remember that one is allowed to feel sad when making the right decision.
A feeling of cognitive dissonance is not unusual to someone choosing to tread down the path less taken. Just as Enola was confident that her desire to see her mother would guide her towards her, so should you be aware of the rewards waiting to be reaped with that first step.
Netflix’s Enola Holmes uses feminist tropes that draw clear parallels to today’s struggles. Its illustration of the rebellious women in the Victorian era is vibrant with facts and emotion that strikes an audience of today’s generation.
Despite being set in the 19th century, the film offers valuable advice on self-autonomy and the power of making one’s own decisions.