Little Sis and I pick up where we left off. We begin by discussing the film’s implicit pacifism, then really go at it over Marvel’s morality of magic and healing. We tackle the question of whether parallels can be drawn from Marvel world to our world, or to the world C. S. Lewis creates in Narnia. Finally, I wrap it up with a little discussion of new Harry Potter universe blockbuster Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, whose sympathetic portrayal of persecuted witches has been explicitly criticized by Catholic critic Steven Greydanus.
Enjoy! (And, as before, apologies for all the places where we say “Mordu” instead of “Mordo.” We forgot, okay?)
Me: Speaking of that guy that the cloak is beating up, I was kind of rolling my eyes at the part where Dr. Strange feels all weird about killing him.
Little Sis: [As if speaking to Strange] I mean, whatever, what’s your problem? Well, I mean, I guess when you are a surgeon, you do [feel like] “We’re saving lives here.” And killing someone, you know…
Me: It would come as more of a shock if you were a doctor.
LS: Yeah, but still, I mean, he’s a bad guy… whatever!
Me: I know, he’s a bad guy.
LS: I mean, I wouldn’t have thought twice.
Me: Right. Well, the conversation he has with Mordu right there, where Mordu is telling him, basically, “Kill the other guy before he kills you. It’s okay, really,” and Dr. Strange says, “You lack imagination,” that’s obviously supposed to foreshadow the whole ending sequence, where Strange wins by allowing himself to be killed over and over again instead of killing other people… So it’s like, “Aha, see, he figured out a way…”
LS: But Mordu’s right. I mean, sometimes you do just have to kill people.
Me: That’s the thing…
LS: In extreme situations, I mean. Like dark lords attacking the earth.
Me: Yeah, like if a dark lord attacks a sanctum or something. Right. Exactly. So I feel like that was another scene where Mordu kind of got the shaft but actually had a point.
So, speaking of Mordu, we should talk about the last Easter Egg, which was really significant. So, he decides it’s not lawful for Pangborn to heal himself with magic, and he shows up at the last scene to take the healing away.
LS: Who is he to decide that? I mean, that’s what I was thinking: “Who died and made you ruler? I mean, why do you get to decide who’s healed and who’s not?”
Me: Well, that is clearly the point of view of the film. But let’s think about this for a second: If you had the power to heal yourself with magic, would you use it?
LS: What kind of magic?
Me: Well, we don’t have to be super specific, but if you could conjure up some spell or harness energy, or whatever whatever. Something supernatural.
LS: If it wasn’t clearly harming someone or something, I actually would.
LS: If it wasn’t clearly harming someone or something, I actually probably would. I mean, that might not be the right, the perfectly moral thing to do. I mean, if it’s like, “Okay…go and kill some babies now,” I wouldn’t do that. But if it’s just like, “There’s some magic lying around, it’s not doing anything. You want it to heal yourself?” Yes!
Me: Well, we’re talking real world here, if somebody told you, “Hey, here’s a spell for healing yourself,” would you do it?
LS: If I knew that there wouldn’t be negative consequences for other people, yeah.
Me: Hmmmm. I’m not sure that’s the right way to think about it. Do you remember an Adventures in Odyssey episode called “A Touch of Healing?”
LS: I know that name, what is that about?
Me: Mr. Whittaker’s son Jason creates an Imagination Station program. [A program that simulates healing for disabled or sick kids, and in particular enables a paralyzed boy named Zach to “walk” inside the Station.]
LS: Oooooh, yeah, that one.
Me: And what does Jack say? Jack is really upset with Jason. What does he say?
LS: He says “You shouldn’t be getting the kid’s hopes up.” But in that case, it’s not the real world… it’s just that they’re basically pretending or simulating that he’s healed, not that he’s actually healed. And that’s why it’s a bad idea, because it’s making him so miserable in the real world. But if it was real…
Me: That’s true, but I think Jack’s making a larger point as well: that sickness and disability are things that God gives us to suffer with. Now, that doesn’t mean that we should stop looking for medical cures, or advancing science and medicine and things like that. That’s one of the things I think is a tad pernicious about this movie… that it’s deliberately blurring the lines between magic and science. Because the Ancient One tells Dr. Strange, “Well, if the word ‘spells’ bothers you, you can prefer to think of them as ‘programs.'”
LS: [In agreement] Ehhhhhhh…
Me: Because there are actual witches and sorcerers on Planet Earth right now, not just in movies. These people are real, and they are definitely not just doing “another kind of science” when they make spells.
LS: But in that case, they’re actually supposed to be in contact with demons or something. In this world, that’s not… well, okay, the Ancient One is pulling power from the Dark Dimension, but her students aren’t. They just find out about that later, and they’re like, “Ooookay.” But they’re just doing stuff, themselves.
Me: Yeah. [But] once again, I feel like Mordu is actually right.
LS: But then he comes back, and he just takes the healing out of the man’s body. And I think that’s just really cruel, and it’s like you shouldn’t be allowed to do that. I mean, I get your point…But I don’t think you should just take control of it and be like, “Okay, I’m gonna paralyze you again, and I’m mad at you that you’re doing magic.” It’s not [Mordu’s] business, really.
Me: Yeah, I would disagree because I feel like suffering is something that should be offered up.
LS: But…this isn’t your kid or something, this isn’t someone you know or really care about. You’re just coming in, you’re just this random guy…
Me: Okay, but I’m kind of taking a step back from the very particular scenario in the movie and thinking, just in general, about the kind of philosophy or worldview at work here, and how it is kind of in tension with the Christian philosophy of suffering.
LS: But couldn’t you just talk to the person? Like, “You know, I’m really having some doubts about what you’re doing to heal yourself,” rather than coming in, knocking him on the floor, pulling the thing out, I mean, really?
Me: Well, I mean, recall… well, you just said it yourself, anyone in the real world who’s doing magic is not up to something good.
LS: Yeah, but in this universe, he just thinks that this person isn’t up to something good. And if he knew that for a fact, I would excuse it immediately. But this guy [is] doing magic in a world where magic is kind of a thing. “I’m just gonna come paralyze you,” that’s…gonna make this guy really resent you, and if he decides to get back into magic, he might come back to take revenge on you for that. And also, it’s just gonna take it away temporarily. As I just said, he could come back and be like, “Okay, I’m gonna heal myself again.”
Me: Well, I don’t know if he would be able to, because the Ancient One is dead.
LS: Hmmmm. But if he knew how he did it to begin with, then he could technically come back and do some spell. Like, “Okay, call up someone to drop me off.”
Me: You’re right. That is left a little bit fuzzy.
LS: So it’s not gonna do much good. That’s just like a symbolic thing: “This is me not agreeing with you.”
Me: Yeah. Well, maybe I can sort of pump your intuition with one last Lewis analogy. If you recall, Digory’s mother, of course, is dying in Magician’s Nephew. So the Witch really tempts him, and this is the part that really tempts him the most: He’s not really tempted when she suggests that he eat the apple himself for his own immortality, but when she suggests “You know, you could take an apple back to your mother,” he’s really tempted to do that. And he begins thinking, “Well, why would it be wrong?”
LS: ‘Cuz you’re stealing it.
Me: ‘Cuz you’re stealing it, but isn’t that the same thing Mordu says about Pangborn?
LS: Who is he stealing it from?
Me: Well Pangborn’s like, “I didn’t steal anything, this is mine, mine.” And Mordu’s like, “This is not yours.” …He took something that was not rightfully his.
LS: But did he take it, or did she give it to him? I’m a little confused here. If she gave it to him, then it’s like, “Okay, she gave it to you. You’re not stealing it.”
Me: Well, remember what she says to Strange, how they all had a choice: They could either take their healing and leave, or they could stay and serve the greater good and learn more.
LS: And that would be the right choice. But she didn’t say that taking it was like stealing it.
Me: Right. That’s Mordu’s gloss on it.
LS: And also, one point I want to make, in Lewis’s world, Aslan does eventually heal her, [Digory] just has to have the faith to not steal it. But in this world, it’s like there’s no benevolent being that’s gonna come along and heal you. It’s kind of like “Do it yourself.” It’s very harsh. There’s no one, basically. It’s you.
Me: Well, I think that Lewis is making the parallel to Jesus’ healing ministry.
LS: Well, yes, but in the Marvel universe, there’s not that either. It’s basically like, “There’s man, and they’re figuring out all this weird stuff they can do. If they can heal themselves, good for them.”
Me: Right. I think my point is that ultimately, in Magician’s Nephew, Aslan, who is like the Christ figure of this world, the God figure, he is the one who heals Digory’s mother, but only because it is in Aslan’s will.
LS: But in this, in the Marvel universe, there’s no one whose will is moral to follow.
Me: Exactly, which I think is one of the issues.
LS: And that’s why I’m not really sure. Because if it were a universe like that, it would be like, “Okay, you should really submit to the will of whoever this good God is.” But there is no one, so whose will…?
Me: Well, but it does take place on Earth, right? I mean, Dr. Strange is from New York, isn’t he?
LS: Yeah, but here they’re not really saying that anyone created the Earth or anything.
Me: Well, they’re not acknowledging that.
LS: Aaaaaah. That’s true. But I’m talking about what we’ve been given in the movie…with what we’ve been given, I’m not really quite sure. If it were on Earth, a lot of stuff would be wrong, like real Earth. But this is not real Earth, and there’s a lot of different stuff going on, so I’m not really sure that certain things are morally wrong.
Me: I mean, there’s a verse in the Bible that says, “Every good thing and every perfect thing comes above…”
LS: True, but these people don’t really believe that.
Me: They don’t believe that, right.
LS: They don’t have a Bible, they don’t have Jesus.
Me: …[T]here is still supposed to be this idea that Dr. Strange’s choice is better.
LS: That he stays.
Me: Right, that he stays. And I do like the last scene…
LS: I like that, yeah.
Me: The last scene very much, where he looks down at his hands, and they’re still shaking, because they will always shake. But this is like this constant reminder that he’s human, he’s frail, and he’s imperfect.
Me: But I still think that it’s a worldview misstep, the non-judgmental attitude towards Pangborn, even though it’s this odd kind of ambivalence. On the one hand, the Ancient One is kind of disappointed that he just takes his healing and goes…
LS: Instead of giving back to the community.
Me: So, there is still supposed to be something somewhat selfish about it, but at the same time, she’s not really judging him for it the way that Mordu does in that very harsh way.
LS: True, but in this worldview, in the world that they’ve created, I’m not quite convinced. I mean, it’s selfish, sure. It’s very selfish, and it’s not, therefore, really the right choice. But I’m not sure that otherwise, there’s something deeply wrong about it.
Me: There’s one other Narnia book that we could compare this to. Do you remember which one?
LS: Not sure.
Me: Okay, do you remember the scene in Voyage of the Dawn Treader where Lucy finds the book of spells?
LS: Yeah, I do.
Me: And what happens in that scene?
LS: She reads this story, and then she comes to the end and can’t turn it back.
Me: Yeah, and then also, she nearly says a spell and then decides not to.
LS: Oh, to hurt someone that was mean to her?
Me: Yeah, isn’t that it?
Me: And then there’s another spell that lets her eavesdrop on a conversation people were having about her, which is really sad. But it’s interesting, because I think that’s the only place in the Chronicles of Narnia where a character is actually trying out some spells.
LS: Hmmm, for some reason I’m thinking there might be someone else, I’m not sure.
Me: Well, except for Uncle Andrew. Of course he’s using magic.
LS: He is, yeah.
Me: Uncle Andrew was someone else I thought of, because, of course, he’s trying to create portals to other worlds, right?
Me: Just the way these characters create portals, except in Andrew’s case there’s this definite idea that he’s messing with something he should not be messing with.
LS: That’s true. But I think also… I keep saying this over and over again, but in the Marvel universe, it’s totally different, and so it’s a little hard to make hard and fast decisions, “Is this right, or is this wrong?” And they kind of try to hint either way, but their hints aren’t just personal opinion. I think they’re trying to think what would happen in their world that they’ve created.
Me: Yeah. Now, there’s a different movie that’s out right now called Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them…
LS: Yeah, the NINTH HARRY POTTER MOVIE IN A ROW.
Me: Well, it’s a prequel, technically.
LS: Oh, great.
Me: But I thought this was interesting, I read a review of it by a Catholic film critic called Steven Greydanus, and what he was saying was, fantasy magic in movies generally did not bother him. But in the plot of this movie, there are some actual witches in this world, who are being persecuted by these people… who are definitely created to look like these super-Puritan, Christian type people.
LS: Oh. Burn all the witches!
Me: More or less, yeah. It’s got this sort of Salem witch trial feel to it, and you know, the heroic main character has to save these people.
LS: Well, what exactly are they doing?
Me: Oh, they’re casting spells and performing magic and stuff.
LS: To harm people, or to heal people? I mean, there is a difference.
Me: I’m not sure exactly what they’re doing. But it’s just like they’re witches, but being a witch is supposed to be good in this universe. And the Catholic film critic said, “That right there I dislike,” because they’re explicitly making the connection to how the Christian worldview…
LS: They’re poking it.
Me: Yeah, how it views magic in the real world. And so, we’ve crossed this line here into something that as a Catholic [he’s] deeply uncomfortable with.
LS: That is true.
Me: Yeah. Okay… [long pause as I consult my notes]
LS: This review’s getting long.
Me: It IS getting long. So, are you looking forward to Dr. Strange teaming up with Thor?
LS: Yeah. I think that’s gonna be really interesting. Now, I haven’t seen the Thor movies. (I’ve heard they’re not very good.) But I think that he’ll make them a little more interesting.
Me: They’re not that great. Loki is kind of the best thing about them.
LS: Wha… the BEST thing? He annoys the heck out of me?
Me: Well, okay, okay, that’s just my opinion. But you have to admit it would be kind of cool to see him and Dr. Strange in the same movie.
Me: Yeah, to see them clash, that would be fun.
LS: And Loki lose. I mean, his losing is always just hilarious!
Me: Yeah, definitely. So yeah, I definitely want to see more Dr. Strange, and I’m really looking forward to…
LS: INFINITY WARRR! AAAAAAH!
Me: I know! So on that note, I think we’ll wrap this up. Thank you very much. It was a lot of fun to see this in the theater with you.
LS: Yeah, for sure.
Me: Fer sure.