Doctor Strange is the last mainstream superhero movie of 2016, a year that has seen its fair share of costumed characters. But this film in particular is unlike any other Marvel Studios film to be released since Iron Man became a huge hit in 2008.
Those movies have put the spotlight on science fiction, Norse religions, WWII super soldiers and even space outlaws. But Doctor Strange is the first to suggest the mystical arts grounded on Earth, or the natural world as we recognize it. This is a movie that posits extra dimensions and spiritual warfare so it makes sense that some Christ-followers are wary of the ideas and practices they might be exposed to while watching this film.
I don’t always talk to my pastor about movies I plan on watching, mostly because being a film critic prevents me from having much choice in the first place to a degree. But this time, I sought insight about the spiritual implications of seeing a movie like Doctor Strange.
He started with a question that was more interesting to me than the answer: “What is Dr. Strange (the character) trying to accomplish?”
I did my best to explain the origins of this doctor-turned-sorcerer based on my years of reading Marvel comics and the trailers that have led to this movie’s wide release. In response, he spoke on how Christians sometimes pause when a story about supernatural phenomenon isn’t directly ascribed to God. There’s an unnecessary fear we entertain when we as Christ-followers struggle to avoid external ideas that challenge our sometimes narrow definition of faith.
On the other hand, there’s power in learning from careful observations of the world, when we can understand God through his creation and the work of his creation without having to adapt our belief system in order to accommodate the diversity of creativity in storytelling and entertainment.
No matter what movie I watch or book I read, I’m always looking for God’s truth between the margins, whether it be a reaction to the content of the story or a recognition of Him through sheer language.
And it’s heartening to find that Doctor Strange is the type of film that invites practical story interpretation for Christ-followers, in that it invites a challenge to the worldview that this earth is all that matters.
Doctor Strange is quite spiritual for a superhero movie, showcasing a narrative that teaches useful lessons for the main character, an arrogant surgeon who once found great success in endless study of the physical world, only to find that there is far more to the natural law than what our limited senses might tell us.
The movie is not a heavy-handed commentary on supernatural apologetics but it does challenge the viewer to consider that there is so much we don’t know, and so much more for all of us to learn.
Doctor Strange lends colorful lore to an action movie but it doesn’t seek to change anyone’s minds or beliefs. Yet even the action of the movie has a surprising twist near the end that serves to minimize the importance of violence and emphasize finding intelligent solutions to complicated problems.
This isn’t your typical brawl of a superhero movie, where the subtext glorifies personal achievement through simple strength and determination. Instead, it wants viewers to consider the value of the mind and avoiding conflict altogether.
There is also a fantastic depiction of the war that goes on all around us, even though we can’t see it, which the movie ascribes to astral projection. It was a fun scene that incorporated both humor and thrilling moments, but it was also easy to embrace the obvious visual cues that suggest what many biblical passages describe as a war of the spirit.
2 Corinthians 10:3–4 comes to mind: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses.”
Walking away from Doctor Strange, I found myself feeling more encouraged than ever about how movies can impart biblical truth, even to non-believers.
The movie served to give me a different platform to discuss faith from, not to argue that my belief system is right and someone else’s is wrong, but instead to point out that the world is hungry for questions about the soul and what we don’t see right in front of us. That maybe we’re overlooking something when coming to conclusions about life, physical laws, and absolutely everything else in between.
And the great thing is that Doctor Strange can help contribute to these types of conversations, even while providing an entertaining experience.