With the arrival of the Avengers movie, I thought I’d offer some ideas concerning a movie about Marvel Comics’ Doctor Strange. For those who are unaware of the comic book character, Doctor Strange is the Marvel Universe’s resident master sorcerer. I liked these comics as a kid. However Doctor Strange would be a challenge to turn into a movie.
Dealing with the topic of magic in film is tricky. The Harry Potter movies were super-successful, but they were pure fantasy. A Doctor Strange movie could try that route but I doubt it would be successful. With CGI “magic”, we’ve all been there, seen that. What is the secret of Marvel’s success with adaptations of their comics? They try to make the characters and concepts as real and plausible as possible. Heroes in tights fighting villains in tights don’t cut it. Example: the failed Green Lantern movie.
Successful Marvel movies allowed us to suspend our disbelief and invest in the characters. The Iron Man movies dealt with real-world issues such as the international arms market. How to make a rational Thor movie? The Thor character was stranded in the real world to create an interesting contrast with Asgard. How to make a Dr. Strange movie about wizardry remotely plausible? I suggest this is possible if we base the movie on elements of genuine occult philosophy.
Doctor Strange’s comic book origin is basically this: a successfully but self-centered surgeon gets into a car accident which injuries the nerves in his hands to the point where he can no longer perform his profession as a surgeon. In despair, he eventually travels to Tibet seeking a way to heal his hands and encounters the Ancient One, an ascended master who trains Strange in the mystic arts.
Treat the movie more like the movie Lost Horizon then Harry Potter. I’ll throw out some ideas as if I were making a Doctor Strange movie.
Act 1 (Encountering the paranormal/supernatural in ordinary life)
Of course Dr. Strange starts as a successful, vain, self-centered surgeon (as in his comic origin). But for greater contrast, have Strange an atheist. Model Dr. Strange loosely after atheist Richard Dawkins. In his practice Dr. Strange would encounter strangeness as doctors sometimes do in real-life, such as spontaneous healings and people with near-death experiences. Yet the ever-skeptical Strange would dismiss all of this as imagination and nonsense. The contrast of a Dawkins-like character becoming a true mystic, an enlightened one, would be the theme of the movie.
In the comic book Strange’s sister died. Use that in a movie. Have his sister die of cancer and Strange unable to save her. After her death, in existential despair and after a bout of heavy drinking, he crashes his car down a cliff. Then insert real life mysticism. Give the atheist surgeon his own near-death out-of-body experience based on actual accounts. He emerges from the accident with damaged hands unable to perform surgery.
Strange is still an unbeliever but his rational world-view is shaken by his NDE. An acquaintance (say his friend the proprietor of a Chinese restaurant) named Wong gives the doctor some advice. As a philosophic sort Wong suggests the doctor seek a cure using non-traditional Eastern medicine. Specifically Wong mentions someone he knew in Tibet, the Ancient One, who can perform miraculous feats. Eventually Dr. Strange will travel to Tibet seeking a cure for his hand’s nerve damage, but unconsciously he also seeks answers to the troubling questions brought on by his sister’s death and his own bout with near death.
Act 2 (The secret of the Ancient One’s Shambhala)
The journey to Tibet or India to seek enlightenment is something we’ve seen in movies such as Lost Horizon and The Razor’s Edge. The point of the journey is to escape our everyday existences so we can look at the world with a new perspective. Use these movies as a guide to the second act of the movie. Dr. Strange seeks the temple of the mystical Ancient One.
However, in real life there is no Shangri-La, no hidden Himalayan lamasery utopia. If such a thing ever existed in real life, it would no longer exist under the hard rule of the Chinese government. Shambhala is only a Buddhist myth. Or is it? In Buddhism, Shambhala represents the Pure Land and abode of the Buddha and considered not a physical reality, but a spiritual one. This Pure Land can only be accessed thru meditation and trace…thru altered states of consciousness.
And so we have the secret of the second act. Thru adventures in Tibet Dr. Strange finally encounters the Ancient One who is literally living in a cave. He is very old but spry and witty. Not what he expected. I’d make the Ancient One humorous and not pretentious. This cave is not the grand lamasery of an ascended master…but a dank hole in a mountain.
Disappointed, Dr. Strange decides to see what this old guy knows anyway. He discovers the Ancient One does not live in this cave but only goes there to meditate. The Ancient One actually lives in a village below with his young wife. Strange becomes a part of this humble Tibetan community, a community oppressed by Chinese authorities led by a Westerner, Karl Mordo. Why is a westerner involved with this remote region of Tibet? The story of Tibet can be a topical situation similiar to the Iron Man movie’s anti-arms merchant theme. Free Tibet!
When Dr. Strange learns compassion for the Tibetan village the Ancient One decides to show Strange the true nature of Shambhala…if Strange is able to overcome his lingering disbelief. Here is where the movie gets mystical. The Ancient One’s Shambhala, his hidden lamasery utopia exists not in the physical world, but on the astral plane. Shambhala is a place visited thru meditation and trace, essentially astral projection. In the astral realm CGI fantastical imagery won’t seem so unbelievable as it’s not physical reality but a dream-like state.
Act 3 (Baron Karl Mordo)
Not only nice guys can use astral projection. The villain of the movie is the comic book’s diabolical sorcerer Baron Mordo. Mordo is an occultist who uses his knowledge and skills for personal gain. Mordo has helped the Chinese government suppress the people of Tibet because he seeks to destroy Shambhala as well. Mordo believes the state owns not only our lives but also our afterlife.
Already an accomplished sorcerer Mordo, sought out the Ancient One for further knowledge. The Ancient One thought he could turn Mordo to the path of enlightenment but soon realized his mistake. Cast out, Mordo since has followed the entity Dormammu and seeks to destroy the Ancient One. In Shambhala Mordo appears like as a Shadow Person, a being of darkness that reflects the appearance of his soul and not his physical body.
Now we are getting into the typical comic book storyline. The Mordo’s soldiers capture Strange in the village (a westerner is easily identified). “Where is the Ancient One?” demands Mordo. The village is about to be massacred. Strange is brutalized, and his hand’s are crushed beyond repair. Everyone will die…
Act 4 (The path of the sorcerer)
About to die Strange astral projects into Shambhala seeking help for the village. There the Ancient One sits. He tells Strange he must save the village himself. But how? Death is only a minute away, the barrel of a gun at his head. The Ancient One will show him, for time and space pass differently in the astral plane and a minute can be decades. In this minute years pass and Dr. Strange is taught to become master of the mystic arts. Great secrets and powers are revealed. There could be a whole separate story-arc taking place in this “minute”.
When this minute/decade is over Strange is reborn as an ascended master who can alter physical reality. Strange vanquishes Mordo’s troops and then Mordo himself. Mordo is then given a curse that all who sees him will see his dark soul as they did in the astral realm. Mordo’s troops, awestruck, drop their guns and abandon the ways of violence.
If I were making this movie this is pretty much how I’d do it. Save the pure fantasy towards the end, and until then keep it real.
Below is a documetary concerning Shangri-La: