Friday, November 18, 2016

Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange has been crushing it at the box office, and rightly so. It’s gorgeous and smart, and it offers a compelling (albeit common) superhero narrative: ordinary people become extraordinary, and in the process they realize that with their great power comes great responsibility. This will require what we think of as virtues: bravery, wisdom, self-control, altruism, moral goodness, and a willingness to sacrifice self for the sake of others. There are plenty of places to read plot summaries and discussion of the movie as a movie. I would like to highlight several things that stood out to me.


I really like how the narrative moves Dr. Strange from a cold, rational, self-centered egoist to a man who realizes that he must be willing to give up himself for the sake of the world. What began as a myopic quest to gain enough power to heal himself becomes a calling to save the world even if he can never get what he wanted personally. By the end of the movie, he has even gone back and sought to mend the trail of broken relationships he was leaving when we first met him. 

Evil as presented in the movie is strong and mesmerizing early on - but isn't that the case with most things that tempt us? By the end, that same evil has lost its luster. The really cool people in this movie are the ones who are not only fighting for good but who are good. It's nice to have a movie that shows the rise in Dr. Strange's virtue as desirable and compelling.


Some are arguing that Dr. Strange is actually a villain because he taps into the evil side of this power to bring about good. I didn't see that happening. Strange’s mentor, the Ancient One, is shown to be wrong for making the kind of moral compromise ‘for the greater good’ that actually draws the evil to this universe. Dr. Strange rejects this (though he does later describe her as ‘complicated’, which may be setting up a scenario in which he is drawn to the same flawed justification). 

Mordo flatly rejects the Ancient One because he believes all the power into which they tap is evil. That does not appear to be true, but his opinion makes sense considering his experience. We see his start on a path to villainy: he is willing to kill anyone who has that kind of power - once again, for the sake of the greater good. Sound familiar? In the process of fighting the kind of moral compromise he saw in the Ancient One, he has given in to the same siren song of "the end justifies the means." His concern is legitimate; his methods are not. He has the potential of becoming perhaps the most sympathetic of the Marvel villains, one whose means we cannot justify but whose ends may well be more important than we realize.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

A Tougher Kind Of Thankful

"My barn having burned to the ground, I can now see the moon." Japanese poet Masahide


I don't know how your life has been, but this past year's circumstances  have reminded me that thankfulness doesn't always come easily. Sometimes it does bubble up naturally from a place of happiness - when the sun is shining in a cloudless northern Michigan sky over blossoming cherry trees, it's easy to love life. However, being thankful is often a commitment to finding that which is good even when the things we love burn to the ground.

As I look back over my life this Thanksgiving, I can see a number of gaps where barns once stood. I don't want to forget that when the smoke clears, the moon (or perhaps the Son) faithfully brings light to even the charred corners of the world. So, here's my attempt to see the beauty in the ashes.