Doctor Strange (2016; Directed by Scott Derrickson), has just become available on Netflix. I decided I would watch it and went in without high expectations. I expected too many fight scenes and not enough metaphor. Perhaps the former was true, but I also found sufficient metaphor and story to keep my interest.
I did not know what to expect from Benedict Cumberbatch, but I was pleasantly surprised at the humour and gravity of his character. He truly wrestles with self-interest and the good of the world. As a self-centred world-class surgeon and immense intellect, the character of Stephen Strange is perfect for Cumberbatch who plays it much like he played his Sherlock character.
Doctor Strange goes where no other superhero movie has gone before. There is no attempt at a scientific explanation for the powers of the heroes in this movie. Instead we see straight-up sorcery, magic incantations, and reliance on the powers of darkness and light. If any of this is making you uncomfortable, or if you wish to avoid spoilers because you have not yet seen the movie, now would be a good time to quit reading. So, as I said, this is about a superhero whose powers come from the fact that he can learn magic incantations. His “photographic memory” helps him immensely in his pursuits of Ph.D., MD, and magic. There is reference to what is known in science as an infinite number of universes (something that is still a theory with little evidence to support) to keep the movie somewhat grounded in science, but for the most part, the writers simply don’t care about science until the physical body of a hero is damaged to the point where it requires the surgical care of Strange or some other member of his world-class surgical team. At the beginning of the story, Stephen Strange is a brilliant surgeon but loses his ability to operate due to an horrific car crash. Strange goes to Kamar-Taj to find healing for his hands but is soon caught up in the great war between the evil and virtuous sorcerers. We get to see the heroes and nemeses running through multiple dimensions and creating portals that take them from one part of a universe to another.
Redemption comes near the end of the movie. Doctor Strange has made his choice, he cannot simply take his miracle of restored hands and go back to his old life. He decides instead to use his great powers to save the earth from the threat of the dark power called Dormammu of the Dark Dimension. At a certain point in the battle it seems that all is lost until Doctor Strange takes the one thing to Dormammu that can defeat the Dark Lord: time. Strange introduces a time loop in which he and Dormammu are trapped such that they must live this one day repeatedly. Strange is killed each day and suffers a good deal of pain in each death but he willingly accepts death and suffering to trap Dormammu in the time loop so that he may negotiate terms with the powerful being. Eventually, Dormammu sees the loop as a prison in which he is trapped and negotiates with Doctor Strange. Dormammu and his evil associates withdraw from earth in return for his release from the time loop.
The story of self-sacrifice which saves the world is the one story that is built into the very weave of the universe. It is the one story which rings true above all others. One person losing their life to save others’ lives and ultimately save themselves is the story of the Messiah and his followers. It is described in multiple ways in the books of the Bible. Matthew 16:25 explicitly says, “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.” This same redeeming message is there at the end of Doctor Strange, reminding us of the nobility of self-sacrifice and the ever-present battle of darkness and light.