Saturday, October 29, 2016

"Doctor Strange" (2016)

12 Days of Halloween 2016 (10)

It is a little too early to make a final determination, but “Doctor Strange” is amongst my favorite movies based on Marvel Comics. Somewhere just above or below “Guardians of the Galaxy.” That is appropriate, because these are the least super hero films in the MCU. However, I am not sure the average movie goer will agree with me. “Doctor Strange” has two things going for it in my case:

First of all, I have been an avid reader of the Marvel Universe—especially the older “classics” that a lot of the films are dipping into. Doctor Strange is an important character in many of the important story lines, but usually in the background. And the stories that revolve around him, particularly the early work, had some of the most cutting edge and influential art-work in comic history. So, when the movie makes references to the comicbook storylines, it is rewarding to see these moments come to life. And the art direction of the film is a beautiful homage to the Steve Ditko artwork.

But even more importantly, this is a Scott Derrickson film. I have followed Derrickson’s career since the beginning, and consider myself a fan. Even though I haven’t loved all of his films, I root for his vision and the message he is trying to bring to the world through his art. Derrickson is a Christian. He is a Christian who tells stories in the horror and fantasy genres, because he sees the value those genres carry in being able to sneak messages in in a way that they will be received. Unlike preach stories that get ignored before they even have a chance to influence.

Here in Doctor Strange we don’t get an explicit message of faith. One might even have concerns with the eastern philosophy inherit in the source material. But Derrickson seems to be clearly employing the old C.S. Lewis maxim that one must first make people “good pagans” in order to lead them to the Gospel. The idea is that a materialistic, atheistic society must first regain a belief in the immaterial, the supernatural.

Dr. Stephen Strange is just such a materialist. He doesn’t believe in the supernatural nor in “the power of belief.” At one point in the film he claims that we are all insignificant bits of matter in an uncaring universe. Later in the film, after his eyes have been opened and he understands how presumptuous his understanding of the universe was, his words are thrown back at him by the villain. It serves as a powerful reminder to the viewer of how far Strange has come.

And that journey, more than anything else, was a journey to humility. The film’s most powerful message is that the pride and self-assurance of atheism, or close mindedness, or scientific genius is foolishness. Real wisdom lies in knowing that we have limited perspectives on reality, and that listening to wisdom from outside our own experiences and knowledge is the smartest approach to life.

And that is just touching the tip of all that this film offers for us to ponder.

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