In the 2009 movie Sherlock Holmes during the bare fist fight scene early on in the movie, Sherlock tries to leave the fight after but is then humiliated by his opponent who spits at him.

He then seemingly breaks the fourth wall and tells us "This mustn't register on an emotional level"... before proceeding to detail how he is going to counter attack.

What is the meaning of the line "This mustn't register on an emotional level"?

  • The answers have already been given, so iI'll just say it: it wasn't breaking the fourth wall because it was just his thoughts narrated. He does it all throughout the movie, and his mouth doesn't move.
    – user15992
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 13:12

4 Answers 4


After watching that clip, I have one more theory. Since it was Irene that calls Holmes away from the fight, it is possible that he is reminding himself to not let his feelings/emotions for Irene get the best of him and allow him to make a mistake.

He says this before plotting out his attack pattern on his target to clear his mind and focus on taking this guy out before going after Irene.

Assuming I'm wrong, another reason could be a reminder Holmes gives himself before planning a fight out to not feel bad for the amount of pain he is about to inflict upon his opponent(s).

(This explanation is wrong, but I'm leaving it in anyway as why not?)

It's possible he wasn't breaking the fourth-wall, but rather speaking to his opponent who wouldn't let him go.

The man was about to attack Holmes, and Holmes essentially warns him to not let his pride get the best of him "Mustn't register on an emotional level" referring to the man's pride of losing the fight.

  • you beat me. damn!
    – Dredd
    Commented Feb 25, 2013 at 14:22
  • FWIW, I think all the explanations hold good!
    – Sayan
    Commented Feb 28, 2013 at 7:00
  • They do indeed :D
    – Tablemaker
    Commented Feb 28, 2013 at 13:02

Holmes works on pure logic and reasoning - it is a very important aspect of his efficiency,

Being spat at made him angry and he had to resist the urge to let his anger cloud his judgement.

He must not let it register on an emotional level and simply react scientifically to the situation, hence the plotting of attacks was based on damage caused and potential openings rather than just "I KEEEL YOU!!!"


We all know that Sherlock was trying to leave the fight and walk out of the PUB. But after being provoked he takes a brief pause before he says the following line "This mustn't register on an emotional level"...

According to me he said so because he did not want this humiliation to blind his judgement.... so that by mistake.... instead of just replying to the humiliation and injuring the opponent he does not end up killing him.

That is why in the end of the counter attack explanation he also tells the physical recovery time and mental recovery time.

To Summarize.... He just says so... so that he does not take it too personally and end up killing the guy.


I don't totally agree with the posted answers.

Holmes is angry and offended by the spitting. But he cannot reveal he is angry, he has to appear calm in order to catch his opponent off-guard. He knows exactly what he wants to do, but it won't work if the opponent is expecting a raging series of attacks.

And after Holmes is done,

Capacity to spit at back of head: neutralized.

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