“Doctor Strange”


            Comic book movies have become a whole cultural entity unto themselves, complete with regional comic-con fests featuring people in costumes and celebrity appearances.  And how many kids dressed as superheroes this Halloween?

            The latest is Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), who begins as a very successful nuerological surgeon, albeit a bit self-obsessed and arrogant.  He even manages to drive away his sweet girlfriend, Christine (Rachel McAdams), an ER doc who had put up with his monstrous ego because she loved him, anyway (and was hoping her unconditional love would transform him?).  Everything changes for Doctor Strange after a horrific car crash (shouldn't drive recklessly in the rain while looking at your phone), and he loses feeling and mobility in his hands.  He tries every Western medical procedure to no avail, and finally, in desperation, seeks an Eastern alternative:  a meditation center in Kathmandu? 

            Ah, but this is no ordinary monastary of Nepalese monks.  This obscure place is presided over by The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), a bald androgynous woman who at first throws out Stephen Strange, because he's still too full of himself, still too skeptical and condescending.  He can't seem to break out of the confines of his cherished preconceptions.  But eventually, he humbles himself enough to submit to their strange routines, which really do lead to the transcendental, but not in the way Stephen Strange expected.

            The Ancient One, and her cohort, Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), begin the re-training by showing Doctor Strange that there are indeed dimensions unobserved by mere objective science.  There are mirror worlds, dimensions that transcend time and space, and teaching the spirit to access these domains takes time, patience, and practiced skill.  Plus a certain predisposition, which apparently Stephen Strange has in abundance, but he was just unaware of his own potential.  (Kind of like Luke Skywalker learning that The Force was indeed within him, but he had to learn how to tap into it.)

            Of course if there is a Force, then there is also a Dark Side.  It seems that one of the Ancient One's apprentices, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) has allied himself with the Darkness, and is inviting that world to take over Earth, and only the portals guarded by loyal disciples of The Ancient One can stop the spread of this powerful evil, that promises immortality but apparently can only deliver unending torment.  (Yes, this sounds much like Christian teaching, Ephesians 6:12: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”)

            Fortunately for Doctor Strange, his photographic memory means that he quickly learns all the ancient conjuring texts (with a nod to Harry Potter's progress in the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry), and soon his “magic” is so developed that he, too, can battle Lord Voldemort, er, Kaecilius, by both hurling their multi-dimensional sorcery at each other.  Doctor Strange is ably assisted by a levitating cape that attaches itself to him, and an amulet which enables his time/space suspension.

            Yes, it sounds like an amorphous plot combo, but somehow it all works, in part because of the extraordinary filming where the 3-D visually enhances the CGI.  This one is definitely worth watching on the big screen.  Even if you're not “into” comic book characters, it's an interesting treatment of the possibility of dimensions beyond what we can see. 


Questions for Discussion:

1)                  When has your life taken an unexpected turn?

2)                  Who have been your most influential mentors?

3)                  Are there dimensions beyond what we can see?


Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association