The Broken Hands of Doctor Strange

What Marvel’s latest hero movie teaches us about engaging suffering.
The Broken Hands of Doctor Strange
Image: Marvel Studios

I felt uncomfortable as my friend Danny and I sat down to watch the latest Marvel comic book movie. He and I have been watching big-screen heroes together for more than 20 years. From The Hobbit to Harry Potter, from Star Wars to The Matrix, from Batman to Ant-Man, we love these stories of lonely characters who are catapulted out of their comfort zones, reluctantly recruited into rebellions against evil, and transformed into sacrificial heroes. And apparently the rest of the moviegoing world agrees with us. What could be more ordinary?

But life has felt anything but normal during this week of dramatic and deeply troubling news. I didn’t know if I could focus on, much less enjoy, Doctor Strange.

Nevertheless, as I drove home afterward, Danny and I couldn’t stop talking about this latest variation on the classic hero story. It has an unusual twist that I find, um, strangely reassuring.

A thousand new film reviews and articles are tracing Strange’s history. It’s easy to learn about how Steve Ditko and Stan Lee, the pair who first imagined Spider-Man, designed this spaced-out sorcerer who battles evil throughout alternate universes.

And it’s easy to see why director Scott Derrickson’s adaptation for the Marvel movie super-franchise is such a success. First: Marvel is a machine that makes blockbusters. Second: Strange boasts standard-setting special effects. (Many say it’s inspired by Inception, but its wildest moments have equivalents in comics that predate Christopher Nolan.) Third: Strange is played by one of this universe’s biggest stars—Sherlock’s Benedict Cumberbatch as the goatee-sporting, cloak-draped hero. And fourth: It sticks to the basic Iron Man outline—rich ...

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