I’m a Marvel fanboy, through and through. Like many thirty-somethings I enjoy watching my childhood reading material come to life on the big screen, and I love sharing the stories with my kids. We’re a Marvel family for sure.
Now that I’ve established my loyalty to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, er… multiverse?… let me say, in the interest of full disclosure, that I’m not a Dr. Strange fan. I never liked the comics or the characters. You might say that my Evangelical roots left me disinterested in a superhero fighting evil with, well, evil — magic spells and goat-head hands. Who needs strange stuff like that when there’s Spider-Man? Really.
Ok, so now you have a handle on my presuppositions. Oh, wait. There’s one more vital piece of information that you need to know: I’m a Lutheran pastor. Though I grew up as a fundie, I’ve repented of my pietistic tendencies and find peace and joy living in the feeedom of the Gospel.
There you go, now you have all the pieces at play in this post, at least the things I’m bringing to the title question, Does Dr. Strange Villainize the Truth?
So what do I mean by that? Possible spoilers ahead. Read at your own risk. As I watched the latest Marvel movie I couldn’t help but pick up on a few things. Obviously, there’s the eastern mysticism that the doctor embraces. Scripture tells us to stay away from this type of devilry (Deuteronomy 18:9-12). What’s that mean? We’re not to fall for these demonic deceptions and be lured away from truth. We’re not to accept false religions and engage in their bad practices. Now, it doesn’t mean we can’t watch fun films about magic with protagonists at a school for wizards. Let’s go ahead and check that nonsensical notion at the door. We can read Harry Potter and we can even root for the young wand wielder to triumph over the evil Lord Voldemort. We can appreciate Gandolf’s magic throughout the Lord of the Rings and yes, as Christians it’s okay to cheer on Cumberbatch’s sorcerer in the MCU. Now that we got that straight I’ll push on toward an answer to my inquiry.
I knew the comic book character and the source of his powers prior to watching the movie. What I didn’t know is how the creative minds behind the film handled the source material. It occurred to me during the show, that what I was watching was something akin to The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, a story centered on the Christian faith, the truth, but from the perspective of the enemy. But, where Lewis’s purpose is clearly in support of Christianity, I’m unable to say the same thing about Dr. Strange. I kind of felt like Christianity was subtly villainized throughout the film.
I know, I know. I read that the director, Scott Derrickson, is a Christian. But this is what I noticed. And so I ask, does Dr. Strange villainize the truth, Christianity?
In Dr. Strange everything is flipped on it’s head, turned inside out and upside down, yada yada yada. The visuals clearly communicate this, lest we forget that things in this movie are not normal, but strange. How much stranger can you get than a superhero who gets his powers, not from hi-tech gadgets, super serums, radiation, or mythological realms, but from belief? That’s strange in itself. Consider what sort of belief we’re talking about – magic arts learned from eastern mystics – and that it’s a materialistic westerner dabbling in it, and, well, we’ve got strange from a whole other dimension going on. On purpose.
It’s somewhat strange to tell a story from the eyes of the bad guys as if they’re the good guys, but at least from the Christian perspective that’s what’s happening in this movie as the “good guys” are those who are involved in what the Triune God calls evil, and as we shall see, the “bad guys” hold to a belief that has elements that are strikingly similar to Christianity. Strange indeed.
After the Doc defeats his first enemy, materialism, his real foe is revealed. The ultimate antagonist is Dormammu, a world destroying being from the Dark Dimension whose sorcerers no longer follow The Ancient One (Strange’s teacher), but are zealous disciples who mourn the death of their loved ones and believe in the one who’s outside of time and will enable them to defeat death. Their goal is eternal life, which they plan to access by breaking natural law. What sounds more like Christianity, that or the mystical arts Strange learns?
You can clearly tell who the bad guys are in the movie, their eyes are blacked out (a point Strange highlights when he and the leader of Dormammu’s disciples, Kaecilius, are discussing who is good and who is bad) and they’re murderers. They decapitate a dude the first time they’re on screen. You know you’re not supposed to like them. They’re the villains.
Throughout the film the movie-goer with ears to hear will pick up on Christian vocabulary, references to paradise, everlasting life, being saved, and hope in the one – who, by the way, plans to consume the world with fire. The patron with eyes to see will notice that Kaecilius and the zealots tap into the dark power of Dormammu in a Christian church. Strange and the Sorcerer Supreme are all about eastern religious locations, while the villains access the Dark Dimension under the stained glass and cross of a beautiful Christian sanctuary. Hmm?
Now, I’m completely open to the fact that my fan theory might be bogus. But it seems to me that Christianity, with our death-defeating Christ who is the only way to everlasting life in paradise beyond time, is the natural choice for an arch-nemesis to a superhero equipped with the evil arts of the eastern religions. Put yourself in the eastern mystics’s shoes. Wouldn’t you see the teachings of Christianity as an evil, seeking to destroy your world, your way of life? Wouldn’t it be a darkness to those religious teachers? Strange doesn’t want to live life everlasting in the Dark Dimension, and his school of thought encourages him to never break the rules of nature, you know, like Jesus did when he rose from the dead. Strange even tells the disciples of Dormammu who want eternal paradise, that they can have it, but it’s not going to be what they think. Then their skin disintegrates and they perish. The Ancient One (a type of Satan) explains that death is what gives life meaning, as if death is a good thing. Sounds like something our ancient foe would say, doesn’t it?
Interestingly enough, it’s revealed that the Ancient One secretly draws her powers from the Dark Dimension. This makes me think of how Satan uses aspects of the truth in the false religions he’s founded across the globe. He can’t create, he can only distort. He has to rely on the truth of God, while hiding it from his followers. All religions have aspects of the one true religion. The demonic forces behind eastern mysticism draw their power from God in the sense that they take what is actually good and distort it so that their adherents will follow their teaching. Mordo recognizes this at the end of the movie and declares that he’s walking away from the Ancient One’s path. He then, in the post-credit clip, is apparently on a mission to rid the world of sorcerers. There are too many. Baron Mordo is suppose to be a villain, but could it be that he’s actually the hero who is has found the truth and is coming out of the strange world of eastern mysticism?
What do you think? Does Dr. Strange villainize the truth? Is Christianity the bad guy in a story that’s supportive of eastern mysticism? Tell me your thoughts in the comments section below. I’d love to hear your opinion.
I enjoy finding allusions to Christianity in stories. If you do too check out my weekly blog series, Finding Truth in the Story. Want more about movies from a Lutheran pastor? Check out Pr. Ted Giese’s movie reviews. He does a great job! You can also listen to him talk about movies on Issues Etc. here.