We often talk about villains here on BD, but let’s shine the spotlight on a hero.
Why? Simply put, we need one.
On the morning of November 9th, 2016, America changed. We can’t yet be 100% sure if it’s for the better or the worse, and at this moment in time, we really have no idea at all what to expect from a Donald Trump-run America. But needless to say, things aren’t looking very bright. Millions of Americans are worried. They’re scared. They feel that the wrong choice, if there even was a right choice, was made. The country feels darker this week than it was at the start of last week, and I don’t know about you, but I’ve been seeking comfort, as I always do, at my local movie theater.
Inside the theater, the real world washes away and fictional, oftentimes magical experiences take its place. The movie theater invites men, women, and children of all sexes, races, and political beliefs to gather together in a dark room and, if only for two hours at a time, feel unified by the power of cinema. But as much escapism as they provide, movies aren’t all distraction. Some of them, like Arrival, can teach us a thing or two about ourselves; the incredible sci-fi film ponders an alternate reality wherein all of us, literally all of us, communicate and deal with world problems together, as one powerful force. The message of Denis Villeneuve’s latest is a timely one here in the present, and so too is the message of another film dominating the box office at the moment: Marvel’s Doctor Strange.
In the first act of the Scott Derrickson-directed hit, title character Stephen Strange (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) isn’t exactly painted as the most likeable hero we’ve met in the Marvel Universe. A surgeon who’s as self absorbed as he is brilliant at his job, Strange is the kind of guy who’s 100% sure that his shit don’t stink, and in many ways, he’s the perfect representation of the privileged white man in America. He (dangerously) drives a ridiculously fancy car, doesn’t seem to care about anyone but himself, and when he’s presented with the option of helping others with his expertise, he’s only really interested in the cases that personally amuse him. The accident that results in him becoming a superhero, well, it’s one that is directly caused by his lack of consideration for the world around him.
At the very least, Strange is initially the kind of guy you’d expect would vote for Donald Trump.
But the most compelling thing about Doctor Strange, brilliant visual effects aside, is the character arc that plays out in the wake of Strange’s debilitating car accident. Despite his own unwillingness to change, the once-selfish man has, by the end of the movie, become perhaps the most selfless superhero we’ve yet seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Yes, Doctor Strange is another superhero origin story, and no, that’s not something that any of us can really relate to on a personal level; but at its core, the film is just as much the story of a man becoming a better man. And the message is crystal clear: We all need to start putting others above ourselves.
In the epic finale of Doctor Strange, the good doctor finally makes a decision that he was presented with earlier in the film. He’s told by the Ancient One that he can use his newfound, mystical powers to help others or, if he chooses, he can use them to heal himself and return to his old life of being one of the best surgeons in the world. While Strange’s whole reason for trekking to Kamar-Taj was to heal himself, he eventually decides to put the greater good ahead of himself.
Once Dormammu’s destruction of Earth begins, Strange uses his powers to trap the villain in an infinite time loop inside the Dark Dimension: with Dormammu trapped in that single moment forever, he cannot carry out his complete destruction of the planet. And the heroic act comes at a huge price to Strange himself: in addition to trapping himself in the unpleasant moment, he also resigns himself to a fate of quite literally being brutally murdered over and over again, in increasingly creative ways, for the rest of time.
It doesn’t get much more selfless than that.
Ultimately, at the promise of the loop being broken, Dormammu agrees to leave Earth. By putting himself directly in the line of fire, Doctor Strange has saved the entire planet. He has cast aside his own privileged life because he has finally seen the bigger picture. It’s not about him.
It’s about EVERYONE.
What can those of us who aren’t superheroes with special powers learn from Doctor Strange? The same thing Strange himself learned, of course. The decisions we make must not always be motivated by selfish desires, and that’s a message that needs to be heard loud and clear in America RIGHT NOW, more than ever. The reality is that a lot of people in this country voted this year on the candidate who seemed to have THEIR best interests in mind, in the process completely ignoring the millions upon millions of Americans whose lives have directly been made a whole lot less pleasant as a result. As humans often do, far too many of us put our needs and desires above the safety and well-being of others, and what Doctor Strange stresses is that this way of thinking, well, it has the power to destroy the world.
But like Stephen Strange, we also wield the power to save it. We must use it wisely.