“I never saw a wild thing
Sorry for itself.
A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough
without ever having felt sorry for itself.”
– DH Lawrence, “Self-Pity” (1929)
*I saw Doctor Strange on Saturday – 19 November 2016.
Self-pity is like a warm bath: it’s comfortable, it’s calming, and it’s easy to drown in it. It sucks to have things take a downturn, especially when everything was going so well. But a losing hand isn’t a possibility, it’s an inevitability. No matter how high one flies, then must eventually land, if not crash. What defines one’s character is how they recover once they’ve hit the ground again.
Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is on top of the world. When he performs surgery he exhibits the flamboyant braggadocio of a professional athlete. But after a car crash leaves him with irreparable damage to his hands, he’s forced to reevaluate his life and calling. Upon hearing that a solution may exist in the Far East, he travels to Kathmandu to learn the mystical arts under the tutelage of The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). It’s there that Strange not only discovers abilities he never knew he had, but also finds himself in the middle of a centuries-long battle to determine who will become the Sorcerer Supreme.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: yes, the whitewashed casting of Tilda Swinton was a bad idea. A really bad. In fact, the only thing worse than the casting would be if Tilda Swinton herself tried to give a bullshit justification for it by thinking of it as a tribute to Asians.
Having said that, the cast is actually pretty good. Yes, that includes Swinton (you just have to wonder why her role couldn’t have been played by Michelle Yeoh)? They all perfectly convey each and every single character’s level of awe or dismissal in regard to the fact that they exist in a world where reality can be folded like freshly-dried linens. It’s both a strength and weakness of the MCU as to why they couldn’t cast an Asian in a film so deeply indebted to Asian culture.
As the MCU continues to become Hollywood’s most reliable franchise, films like Doctor Strange serve as a fine entry point for those who somehow haven’t followed every adventure of The Avengers (the first Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy flicks also serve this purpose). But that world-building means nothing if the individual entries can’t stand on their own. Thankfully, Steve Ditko and Stan Lee’s psychedelic sorcery plays beautifully on the big screen.