They Might Be Giants [Motion picture: 1971]

They Might Be Giants

George C. Scott often manages to bring a believability to even the most unbelievable role. In the dark comedy They Might Be Giants, Scott plays Justin, a man believing himself to be the illustrious fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, who’s turned over to a psychologist, played by Joanne Woodward, for evaluation and treatment. She’s a young woman whose last name just happens to be Watson—a situation that doesn’t exactly help Justin’s delusions—and she’s soon drawn into his search for Moriarty, following “Holmes” hither and yon through Manhattan and into dangerous situations.

They Might Be Giants is modeled to some extent on Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes; the film’s title, in fact, comes from Don Quixote’s belief that the windmills he’s about to attack are giants. And, according to Justin, “That's insane. But, thinking that they might be, well... All the best minds used to think the world was flat...If we never looked at things and thought of what might be, why, we'd all still be out there in the tall grass with the apes.” It is from this thoughtful perspective that the film asks whether Justin is crazy—but if he is, does it really matter?

Scott’s Justin is driven, prone to leaps of both amazing logic and illogic. Woodward, perfect as the psychologist deeply caught up in her patient’s delusion, is not so much Watson to Justin’s Holmes as she is Don Quixote’s Sancho Panza.  The film moves quickly, but the direction of that movement is never made clear. At best, the ending will leave you thinking—but it is also just as likely to leave you scratching your head in puzzlement, as it did me, and yet I still found it enjoyable.  

The title of this film may also remind you of a certain band from the 80s. There is a reason for this: They Might Be Giants founders John Flansburg and John Linnell are such fans of the movie that they felt it was the perfect name for their band. Apparently, they were right.