Thursday, November 3, 2016

How to Watch Doctor Strange

What do we have here? An incredibly loaded character profile. Let's start at the top, with his head. Strange has at least three different hairstyles in the film to correspond to his three different existential states: his hairstyle as a doctor, the wanderer, and then the sorcerer. Hair, and anything on or pertaining to the head, symbolizes our thoughts because our thoughts originate in our minds which are located in our head, so the way a character wears their hair, for example, will tell you about their thoughts. When Strange is the doctor, he is logical, so his hair is mostly combed back, it's "disciplined" because he only allows himself to believe things he can analyze through logical processes. When he's the "wanderer," he has lost the use of his hands and can no longer perform surgeries and tries desperately to find some healing art to restore his "power," his hair is messed up and thick, shaggy, he has lost his analyzing powers because it didn't make sense that he should have been in that wreck (he has now become a "wreck" himself) and so now, he can't discipline himself, he sees himself in a "new light" (more on this below). As a sorcerer, he has freed his mind from logic, but he also hasn't lost the use of his logical powers. He isn't wholly a mystic, but also not a hostage to disbelief and "materialism" anymore (more on this imperative subject below). Notice the "flair" of white hair on the side of his head: white symbolizes faith, purity, innocence. In this case, it probably denotes faith, that he has learned there is more than the material and that knowledge of the reasonableness of faith has made him wise (because Strange is a neurologist, we are going to be exploring HIS NEUROLOGY, and anything and everything that happens to the head, thoughts, thought processes, etc., is going to have elevated importance in this film because of Strange's profession). On a different level, the head also symbolizes "the head of government," it is not wholly the governing function of an individual's body, but also the collective body of a group of people--such as Americans, or the English or Russians, etc.--.and how the "head of government" is the central control of a society; so we have that to keep in mind as well. Facial hair also has a three-stage development in the film: when Strange starts out, he's clean-shaven. Normally, this denotes the civilized man, because the Romans distinguished themselves from the barbarians because barbarians didn't shave their beards, but civilized men did (no offense to any of the men out there, this is art, not fashion nor your morning routine). After the wreck, Strange has grown a shaggy beard; why? We see him wearing a gray shirt and brown pants when he meets the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) because gray is the color of the pilgrim, a penitent or one who has started their "novitiate" into a new state of life. Strange's pants are brown at this point because brown is the color of dirt, meaning, a character is literally "dirty," as in corrupt, or they have been humbled ("From dust you came and to dust you shall return") and that Strange's pants are brown means that he has lost his "standing in society" (the legs symbolize our "standing" and reputation with others, so he's no longer a respected neurologist as he was) so he has been humbled. He wears a beard, then, as a sign of feeling he has been cast out from society because he no longer occupies a place in society, which is why he goes to the "margins" of the civilized world, Tibet, because he doesn't belong in the mainstream of the world anymore (remember, the guy gives Strange the WiFi password and tells him, "We're not savages," because they are on the outskirts of civilization, they have to tell people they are not barbarians like the barbarians who lived on the edge of the Roman civilization) but Strange feels he has, at this point, before the Ancient One sets him upon a new path, has become a barbarian, or at least one who doesn't belong. Then, after he begins to master the magic and mysticism, he grows wiser, Not wise, like the Ancient One, but wiser than he was when he was a doctor; this is still an origin story, so Strange still has far to go, but this is about his transition from the old way to the new way. Now, let's move onto the neck, and there are two details here we ourselves would be wise to note. First, the red cloak of levitation. When images of Cumberbatch as Strange emerged, writers mocked the high collar design on the cape and said how ridiculous-looking it was, and even commented that the collar was something which "had to go" from the original comic to the cinematic adaption. The neck symbolizes that which leads us or guides us, so it's a vulnerable place for a character; that Strange wears a high-collar means the collar "blocks" or "protects" his neck, i.e., protects him from being led by something that is going to hurt him. For example, one character warns Strange to be careful which path he travels down, because stronger men than him have lost their way; they have lost their way because they allowed themselves to be led by something that controlled them, that consumed them, and the high collar on the cloak is meant to symbolize how Strange is protecting himself from going down that wrong path.  Why is the cape red? Better question: why are nearly all capes red? Capes rest upon the shoulders, because shoulders symbolize our burdens, like the mythical Atlas carrying the world upon his shoulders. Capes are red because red symbolizes blood: either we love someone or something enough to sacrifice our (red) blood for it, or we hate someone or something to spill their (red) blood to appease our wrath (so, when someone turns red with anger, their [red] blood is boiling because they have been brought to the point of spilling someone else's blood, even if just metaphorically doing it). So, capes are red because it is only the strength someone gets from love that can help them carry the burden they take upon themselves to save the one they love through self-sacrifice. How Strange's understanding of love evolves in the film will be a vehicle of his conversion and how he saves the world. Now, the other point about his neck: he wears a medallion (well, maybe that's not a good word, but it will suffice for now) around his neck; whatever that is, is what he has chosen as "his path," the path of his destiny and himself as a person. Whatever we learn about that thing hanging on his neck, we can say is Stephen Strange in his most concentrated essence.  What about the blue shirt Strange wears? This validates our interpretation about everything else: blue symbolizes both sadness/melancholy and wisdom, because it is only through sadness and difficult experiences that we gain wisdom, which is the greatest of all treasures, so the "signs" we see of the white streak in his hair, the facial hair, the high-collar and medallion he wears, all add up to accumulated wisdom in which he is now clothed (the blue shirt/tunic). Lastly, Strange stands against a black background; why? Black always symbolizes death: the "good death" is when we die to ourselves and become "alive" to the needs of others; the "bad death" is when we die to the needs of others, and we live only for ourselves. Strange, like all of us, has to die to what he was--in his case, a brilliant neurosurgeon who was arrogant and proud of himself and his accomplishments--but he also has to die so he doesn't become Kaecilius (Mads Mikelson), who is also arrogant. So, in order to live, to live the live he was meant to, which was meant to save lives, he has to die, and that good death is the "back drop" of his whole characterization.
"If I can't shake a stick at it, it doesn't exist," one of my atheist philosophy professors said, every single week of my undergrad education. In spite of the "gospel" he tried to instill within me, I never bought it; I knew there were things that exist even though I couldn't shake a stick at it, or even articulate it, like my soul. Every Christian should be thrilled that Marvel is introducing Doctor Stephen Strange into the universe of super-heroes; why? Because we believe in a immaterial universe, as well as the material one. God, angels, demons, the soul, all belong to the immaterial, the world of spirit, rather than the world of flesh; that doesn't mean the spirit world doesn't intrude into the material one, quite the opposite, and with this new film, Marvel makes that case. Each of the trailers is included in this clip:
You will definitely want to see this, and you will definitely want to see it on the big-screen: the artistry of the film was made for it and you will be losing so much of the film makers' intentions in seeing it on a smaller screen that the struggles of Strange will be diminished. There are, from what I understand TWO POST-CREDITS SCENES, so stay until the end the very end, because they will both have ramifications for other films. Now, why is his name Stephen Strange?
We know that windows and glass symbolize reflection, of the inner, meditative kind, that when a character looks at glass or into a mirror, they are "reflecting" on their inner-reality. Why will this be important? Because animals can't reflect, being able to "reflect" means you have choices, and you ponder those choices, which means you have free will, and when you have free will, you are responsible for the choices you make, be they good or evil consequences. Now, of his whole body that could become damaged in the wreck, why does Strange loose the use of his hands? Hands symbolize strength, specifically, our strength as individuals. Why? Because we give our hand in a gesture of a "hand shake" when we are giving our word of honor about something, because our "honor" comes from our source of strengths as individuals: if we don't have strength of character, we don't have honor, and if we don't have honor, no one is going to enter into an agreement with us where we make a promise to honor that agreement. For Strange, his hands, the hands of the surgeon, signify that he will use his honor to try and correct a patient's problem, rather than make that problem worse (go into their brain and intentionally do something that will ruin that person). Strange loses his hands' ability to operate because Strange has to learn--as do each and every single one of us--that he has a greater, deeper source of strength than just that which he can do as a surgeon, he has power coming from his spirit, he has power in the world that cannot be seen, where there is a battle that cannot be seen, but must still be fought.
His name is "Strange" precisely because there is nothing strange about him: he's perfectly normal. He's meant to be an archetype, someone with whom we can all identify, because if there were actually anything "strange" about him, we couldn't identify with him and he would, therefore, thereby and therewith, cease to qualify as a "hero." The name "Stephan" means "crown," and so his "normality" and lack of strange-ness is his crown, because it's what allows this character to be a vehicle for us, the viewers. We have to see ourselves, our lives, our struggles, in his story, which means, he reflects the common that binds all of us together. From what we have seen, there are two main points we have to be ready for in the film, and the first is the word play we see when Strange meets Kaecilius (Mikelson at 0:46 in trailer above):
Kaecilius: "Mister...?"
Strange: "It's doctor."
Kaecilius: "Mister Doctor?"
Strange: "It's Strange."
Kaecilius: "Maybe. Who am I to judge?"
This conversation tells us two things.
Two things about Kaecilius. First, yellow. We see the Ancient One (Swinton) wearing yellow, with a hood hanging over her face, and using energy to transform the city-scape; then we also see Kaecilius wearing yellow, as he does in this scene (although this particular shot is kind of dark). Yellow is the color of gold, which signifies kingship, because gold is the only gift that is worthy to give a king. A king is supposed to stand up and charge into battle, and lay down his life for the life of his people, lead well and be a father to them. A bad king runs away from that battle and causes his people to lay down their lives for him (this is how "cowardice" becomes associated with yellow). The Ancient One wears yellow because she draws her power for her innate dignity, her kingship from being a daughter of God which is given to each of us. Kaecilius wears yellow because he is going to artificially instill kingship in every person (we have to see exactly how he does it, but it looks like his character is like Daniel Bruhl's character in Captain America: Civil War). The second thing we need to pay attention to for Kaecilius is his eyes. When the Ancient One sends Strange on that mind trip, she touches his forehead and says, "Open your eye!" so he can see within himself and discover the universe he has missed. Kaecilius' eyes are burnt, looking like a raccoon's, but there is a specific event that caused his eyes to look like this, so eyes as the ability to inwardly reflect and "see" beyond the surface of things, has been turned into a negative by Kaecilius, and Strange himself risks becoming that way, too.
First, word play will "mirror" the mirror images we will see in the film, that is, everything has a dual. Kaecilius, as we can guess, is exactly what Strange WILL BECOME if Strange does not fight and defeat him first (this is typical in the Marvel Universe and why it has been so successful); when we see Strange and Kaecilius fight, Strange fights himself, and when Strange is losing, it's because he has to more thoroughly learn the lessons he has learned, in other words, experience has to make up what has been missing from his mystical lessons. Secondly, this conversation describes exactly what kind of "spiritual threats" the sorcerers are meant to protect the world from: Pope Francis and homosexuality. What does Kaecilius do in this conversation when meeting Strange? He takes two forms of proper address, "Mister," and "Doctor," and he combines them into one, complete name: neither of these names are "names," and they are not meant to "go together," anymore than two men are meant to go "together" in sexual union, or two women together in sexual union: "Mister Doctor" is not the way names identify us, nor the way they work to convey who we are, and the same can be said of homosexuality. This interpretation is validated by Kaecilius replying that he doesn't understand that the man he is talking to is named Strange, but that having two forms of address is itself "strange," and saying "Who am I to judge?" Kaecilius echoes Pope Francis who shockingly replied, "Who am I to judge?" when asked about gay priests. This is the "spiritual threat" (Pope Francis is supposed to be the leader of the Christian world, not the defender of liberal policy) which makes the sorcerers like the Avengers, so let's explore that.
If hair symbolizes thoughts, then why is the Ancient One bald? We can have a bald villain, like Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) in Batman vs Superman, because, just as Luthor has shaved off all his hair, so he has cut-off all his thought, his inward reflections. Because the Ancient One has completely mastered self-reflection and meditation, has completed the journey of self-knowledge and discipline, she IS her thoughts; there is no weakness or doubt in her path because she has consistently chosen the right path and best thing to do (like, for example, Professor Xavier in X-Men). Now, there is a problem with the Ancient One, but we will have to see how that plays out before we can make deductions about it; preliminarily, I don't think it's a problem, but we will have to see what happens. So, what about her gray outfit? If she is so advanced, then why does she wear gray if gray is the color of the pilgrim or the novitiate? Because those who know, know that they know not. This gray outfit is a sign of the Ancient One's humility, which allows her to continue to advance in (endless) knowledge. 
As Benedict Wong tells Strange, "The Avengers protect the world from physical dangers, we safeguard it against more mystical threats." So while the Avengers battle the socialist Ultron, the sorcerers remind us of the ideological conflicts taking place and how those spiritual battles threaten us on a daily basis (like in the US when "transgender" individuals are allowed to use any restroom they want, or locker room). As Marvel has been detailing consistently, the whole world is under attack from socialism and progressive positions, and this clip polarizing the material world and the spiritual could be between a Christian and an atheist:
"There is no such thing as spirit! We are made of matter and nothing more." THAT is exactly what socialist want us to believe, that we have no soul. We are animals, not the children of God, but beasts, who have to be fed by caretakers, given lots of sex, and drugs, and controlled by caretakers because we can't make decisions for ourselves. Now, if you think I am over-reading, especially just because these are trailers and clips, I understand, however, I have read the synopsis and there is a very important detail we have to watch for: life being artificially sustained. Because socialism artificially sustains systems and programs as opposed to a free market that makes systems become self-sustaining or die if they can't. That is what we need to look for. I all ready have my ticket for a showing Friday afternoon, so I will work very hard to get that post up asap! As always, thank you so much for stopping by to see if I have updated the blog, thank you!
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner