Courtesy of Thanksgiving Break, Little Sis and I bring you our SPOILERIFIC deep dive into Dr. Strange. We discuss favorite moments and funny bits, as well as how the film handles mind/body dualism, death, and (of course!) magic. It got a little long, as LS observed towards the end, so I’ve broken it up into two parts. In Part II, we will discuss the film’s philosophy of suffering and hash out some differences of opinion on the last Easter Egg and whether we agree with its perspective on magical healing, while expanding on some compare and contrast with C. S. Lewis’s Magician’s Nephew. For now, enjoy Part I, and stay tuned! (Note: I apologize in advance for our erroneous and repeated reference to the character of Mordo as “Mordu.” As you might be able to tell, we’re not exactly die-hard comic book fans, we just watch the movies!)
Me: Dr. Strange is slated to join the other Avengers in Infinity War. Do you think this is a good thing, or are you worried the cast might be getting too crowded?
Little Sis: It’s really gonna change the dynamic a lot, because as they say in Dr. strange, the Avengers protect the world from physical dangers, so bringing him into it, while I think that would be very cool, I think that it would just change a lot of stuff. It’s gonna change a lot of stuff, and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I’ll have to see it on screen.
Me: Which characters do you think he would get along with, and which characters might he rub up against?
Little Sis: I was kind of thinking about that, and I’m not sure… the Avengers are still split, I’m assuming [Note: Little Sister has not yet seen Captain America III!], so whether he would be on Iron Man’s side and Team Cap’s side… He seems to fall a little bit between the two. I’m not really sure.
Me: He kind of reminded me of Iron Man, especially at the beginning.
LS: Yeah, I was actually about to say that, so I don’t know if he would find that annoying, seeing himself (!) or if he would get along with that.
Me: Yeah, I feel like him and Iron Man in the same room together, maybe they would just annoy each other.
LS: Oh, sparks would fly!
Me: Although, Dr. Strange was humbled a little by the ending.
How do you rate Dr. Strange as a character by comparison with the other regulars?
LS: I think that he could bring a lot, have a lot to offer to the team, but I’m not sure…he would fit in with that crowd.
Me: I meant how much you like him as a character.
LS: I think he has quite a good story, but I do think that if it was developed more, we would get more feeling for who he is as a character…I think we need to see a bit more of him.
Me: It was all a little bit rushed, especially the training sequence.
LS: Yeah, it’s like he just got really good…
Both: All of a sudden!
LS: Well, he DOES have a photographic memory, you gotta give him that.
Me: Okay, fair point.
Okay, so, there’s a lot of magic in this film. How would you contrast it with the way magic is used in books like The Chronicles of Narnia or The Lord of the Rings?
LS: This has, I think, more of a “just go out and do it,” a “DIY magic,” if you know what I mean. And I think there’s a lot more of just don’t ask, you wouldn’t understand it with this. I think it’s more complicated.
Me: Well, the way I look at it is in Narnia, a lot of the magic comes from Aslan, or Father Christmas in Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe.
LS: Here’s, it’s basically like if you could just sorta open your mind and humble yourself… you can, uh, start making portals!
Me: It’s like Ratatouille, anyone can cook!
LS: Yeah! [giggles]
Me: Anyone can do magic!
LS: Oh, and you have a sling ring, y’know, then you’re all set! You can just go out and save the world, go right ahead.
Me: Although, you do have to be talented enough to pick up the knowledge, and Strange is supposed to be especially gifted.
LS: Yeah, but it seems like there are quite a few people there.
Me: (Yeah.) And then, in LOTR, the magic is used very sparingly, I think.
LS: I think they’re more careful with it. They’re way more careful.
Me: It serves some practical use, like Gandalf will make light in Moria or something.
LS: Not just like, “Y’know, I really don’t want to drive to work today, so…”
Me: “I’m just gonna use my sling ring!” Exactly, right. And Gandalf is kind of like an angel in Middle Earth.
LS: Well he is after he dies, especially.
Me: Right. Well, I think the idea is that he was always an angel-like creature. He’s always been this higher kind of being. And he is a wizard. They do call him a wizard, and he does perform parlor tricks like with the fireworks and stuff, so he can have fun with it sometimes. But I do think it’s very different from the way it is here. And a wizard in Middle Earth doesn’t mean the same thing a wizard in the world of Marvel means. Although, they do both have a sort of protecting thing in common.
LS: If you’re good, obviously.
Me: Well, obviously if you’re good. If you’re not a Dark Lord or a Fallen Pupil or something.
Me: Okay [new question]: Strange is upset when he finds out The Ancient One is using dark power to increase her lifespan, but he eventually forgives her and says she’s “complicated.” Do you think the movie lets her off easy, or does she still pay a price?
LS: You know, I think she does pay a price, and she does admit that she really hated doing that, so lip service is paid to the fact that this isn’t really a good idea. But I do think she did get off. I mean she died, obviously…
Me: And she died because Kaecilius killed her. And Kaecilius would never have fallen if she had not been doing these rituals and things. I still don’t quite understand what Mordu was saying about how the whole thing was her fault…
LS: Yeah, I think you need to strike a balance in between those two views, because I got annoyed at him after a while. I mean, he’s like, “Oh, isn’t this terrible! She betrayed everyone! Everything is connected to her, it’s all her fault!” It’s like, chill. You have no chill, dude.
Me: Yeah. And I really did love her death scene.
LS: Yeah. That was really good.
Me: Incredibly well done, the way she “turns one moment into a thousand, just so she can watch the snow.”
So, let’s talk about how death is kind of handled in the movie. Kaecilius says death is an insult, but the Ancient One says death is what gives life meaning. So, who’s right?
LS: The Ancient One’s right.
Me: The Ancient One’s right?
LS: It’s very true. If you just live forever, what’s the point?
Me: Okay, this is true. At the same time, isn’t it interesting what she says where she says she spent so many years peering through time to look at this moment, but she can’t see beyond it?
Me: So the whole idea of an after-life is kind of missing in this movie, isn’t it?
LS: Yeah, they really tried to gloss that over as much as they possibly good.
Me: But, you know, that is consistent with Eastern mysticism. It’s like after your life is over you’re kind of… well, what I’m about to say is kind of like what Kaecilius says about Dormammu, that you’re sort of absorbed into the one. But it’s supposed to be good in Eastern mysticism. But it is interesting to me, that with all this emphasis on the spirit, the soul, it doesn’t really discuss where the spirit goes when the body dies.
LS: Well, her astral body just disappears, so the idea is just that you’re gone.
Me: Exactly. So it is interesting, I think, to think about this… how would a Christian approach this? Because the Christian worldview is not really represented by either side in this movie. So obviously, when Kaecilius says that time and death are insults, he’s trying to escape death, obviously you don’t want to try to escape death. But one could say that death is not in the natural order of things as God intended it. So in that sense, it is kind of an insult. It’s like Satan’s last huzzah before Jesus comes again.
LS: But it can have meaning. It can be beautiful in ways.
Me: Right, and so that’s the point, the kernel of truth in what the Ancient One is saying.
LS: You know it’s really the whole package, the good, the bad and the ugly. That’s what death is.
Me: Right. And we’re gonna talk more about this, but I think there are a lot of comparisons that could be drawn to The Magician’s Nephew. Do you remember when Jadis is trying to tempt Digory to eat the apple? And she’s like, “Think about it, eternal life!”
LS: “Isn’t this great?”And he’s like, “No, I’d rather die and go to heaven actually.”
Me: Exactly, Digory’s like, “I don’t want to go living on and on and watch all my friends die. I’d rather live a normal life, and die and go to heaven.” So there is a similarity there to what the Ancient One says.
So, we’ve been discussing this a little bit, but let’s talk a little bit more about this worldview shift that Dr. Strange goes through. He comes in this hardcore materialist, right? And then she pushes himself out of himself and sends him flying through the cosmos on this extremely trippy…
LS: Freaks him out.
Me: Freaks him out. And he realizes, “Okay. I have a spirit after all.” So how are his discoveries similar to, but maybe different from what Christians believe about the soul?
LS: Well, he obviously discovers there are infinite universes and all these dimensions and all this stuff you can do. A Christian discovers you have a soul, but there are two places that soul is gonna go: heaven and hell. It’s not just, “Hey, guess what, you can do all this cool stuff now!” It’s basically like, “You have to clean up your act now!”
Me: Right. Exactly. Also, there’s no concept of salvation, really, in this film.
LS: Or repentance, or anything.
Me: Yeah, now Strange does undergo change.
LS: He does apologize.
Me: He does repent in the sense that he comes to feel guilt for the way that he’s treated Christine.
LS: Well, THAT’S good!
Me: That’s good. He should feel guilty about that. What a jerk! So what did you think of the character of Christine and their relationship?
LS: She was very human and brought a more solid note to the movie in all the stuff that was going on, it’s basically like she’s living her life. And especially the moment when he’s saying goodbye to her, he’s like, “I have to go now,” I think that you know, with all this discussion of time and time standing still, these little moments that maybe aren’t significant…but just like that you have to say goodbye to someone, it’s very special… the moments when time really does stand still.
Me: Oh, I like that! That was almost a deeper moment of time standing still than at the end when time literally did stand still.
LS: I know, that’s my point!
Me: I felt like their relationship, it was very underwritten. And it was a slightly odd thing to me, the way it emphasized at the beginning that they really didn’t have that deep of a relationship. He says…
LS: “We were barely lovers.”
Me: Right, “We were never friends, we were barely lovers.” And so one wonders exactly why it is that she keeps coming back and helping him after he’s been in this accident.
LS: Well he comes to her and he’s, like, dying…
Me: Well then of course, right, he comes to her when he’s dying, and they’re having these emotional moments and things like that. But I just felt like the background for their relationship was very, very thin.
LS: I think that might be a little more realistic in a way. Like it’s not all cupcakes and roses with relationships. Sometimes you just don’t get along with someone that well.
Me: Could be. I guess my point is that I had trouble seeing that they ever had much of a relationship at all.
LS: Yeah. Maybe because of him. Maybe because he was such a jerk.
Me: Yeah, exactly. But it was really sweet how they tied it up. Especially the watch. The watch, I thought was a really nice touch.
LS: Ohhhh, the watch, yeah!
Me: Yeah. And that it’s the only watch that he kept, because he went so broke spending money on all these cures for his hands and stuff, and he must have had to get rid of most of his watch collection, but that’s the one he kept.
Me: That was sweet.
So, what does Mordu mean when he keeps talking about breaking “the natural law?” And how does this differ from what a Christian might mean when he talks about the natural law?
LS: He basically just means you’re doing… stuff that’s not natural to the way the world was created. And I was sitting there and I was thinking, “Well, if that’s what you mean, what harm is it doing? Are the natural law’s feelings hurt? Can we call up the natural law, ‘I’m sorry, were you triggered by this?'”
Me: That’s not what he means though. What he’s saying is that when you mess around with time and the space continuum and stuff like that, you can bring about unintended consequences.
LS: Yeah, but it was pretty vague. It’s like, “Okay, can we see some of that?”
Me: Well, he thinks the fall of Kaecilius was a consequence.
LS: True. Yeah, I do kind of see that.
Me: Because the Ancient One was mucking around with the Dark Dimension.
LS: Yeah. Which was a bad idea.
Me: Which was a very bad idea.
LS: But you know, when a Christian talks about the natural law, we’re talking about what God intended it to be, and since there’s no God in this universe, it’s like, “Well, the way evolution created it to be, or some…thing… however the world was created, you’re messing with it.”
Me: Yeah, and by the end Mordu seems pretty down on magic and sorcery in general. Because… well, we’ll get to that in a second, but he has this line, “The bill comes due, always.” What do you think of that line, do you think there’s some truth to that?
LS: Definitely there is, but I think that it’s more like a warning: Don’t go beyond what prudence tells you to do. And it was true for the Ancient One. You know, she died.
Me: Right, exactly. I wonder whether maybe there’s gonna be some consequence that comes up for Dr. Strange in a later movie. Maybe Dormammu will be back. Who knows?
LS: He was a little annoying.
LS: It’s just like okay, you’re big, you have big creepy eyes, you talk in a weird echoey way. It’s like, okay, okay, can we get a more intimidating villain?
Me: Ha! What did you think of Kaecilius?
LS: He was actually more intimidating. The glittery eye makeup was a bit much.
Me: The glittery eye makeup was just really weird and creepy.
LS: I just thought it was like, “Okay really, couldn’t you have his eyes go black or something? That would have been a little more creepy. No, you just had to have mascara running down his face.”
Me: Well, that one scene where he’s delivering his monologue, it looks like there’s a tear rolling down his face.
LS: Which monologue?
Me: Well yeah, that’s true, he had [a lot of] monologuing. It was the one where he was chained up in Greenwich Village, and he was saying “Time is an insult,” and all that. There’s a tear rolling down his cheek, and I don’t think he’s supposed to be all that emotional in that scene. I wonder if the actor’s eyes were reacting to the makeup in that moment, but the director said, “You know what, that was such a good take, we’re just gonna keep that.”
LS: “You did really well with the pauses there!”
Me: Yeah. That was Mads Mikkelsen by the way, very talented actor from… Denmark or Sweden? I forget. I thought he was a tad under-used.
LS: Yeah, at least he had some moments of wry humor, even though he’s this really bad guy.
Me: Right. So what did you think of the humor? I felt like there were a couple of places where they were trying to force humor into the scene, where it would have played better if it had been more serious.
LS: True, but I mean, they’re trying to lighten the mood just a little bit.
Me: I thought the mood was pretty light.
LS: Yeah, but I think they’re trying not to make it quite so dark and just like you know, depressing.
Me: Yeah, but I mean, I felt like the scene where he was fighting Kaecilius and Kaecilius was monologuing, it’s like, “Wait, wait, let’s let this breathe a little bit. Let it have a little bit of weight.”
LS: True, that is true. But I think that gave the movie a really nice spark.
Me: Oh, there were funny bits in the movie. What did you think was the funniest?
LS: Let me think for a second… I like when he gets kicked out.
Me: Oh yes, right! “Teach me!”
LS: And then when he gets stranded, she strands him on Mt. Everest. Mordu’s like, “You know, maybe I should…” “No, no, just wait a minute.” I mean, that’s kinda cruel, if you really think about it.
Me: It is cruel. I liked all the little winks and nods to pop culture. Where he’s arguing over when “Feel So Good” came out in the beginning. (A song which I love, by the way.)
Oh, can we talk about the cloak for a minute?
LS: Aaaaah, I want one! Where can I get one?
Me: I know, my own cloak of levitation. I can just see the commercial: “Wipes clears…wipes tears, enables fight… flight…”
LS: Are you okay?? Start over again.
Me: Sorry everyone, I just got out of a Thanksgiving coma. “Wipes TEARS. Enables FLIGHT. Beats up bad guys if you’re walking down a dark alley.”
LS: I know, he comes back through the portal, and it’s still slamming him on the ground!
Me: I know, that was so great.
LS: I love that. I want to see more of that. If nothing else, just give us the cloak!
Me: Yes, more cloak, definitely.
LS: Levy. I think we should call it Levy.
Me: Hey, I like it! It can be a Jewish cloak, there you go!
[To be continued in Part II!]