Character Analysis: Doctor Strange
Note: I will do this from the viewpoint of the movie as I do not feel I have read enough of the Doctor Strange comics to make a judgement on the comic version of the character. If anyone has any good idea about whether or not the movie character matches up or if my analysis matches the comic, please let me know in the comments down below.
I thought it was about time that I took a look at the character that actually started this off. I had been sitting with work and listening to a Jordan Peterson lecture on heroes when I decided to re-watch the Marvel movie. The quote, “watch the hero,” kept repeating in my mind as I had been dealing with anxiety issues over the previous months.
Doctor Stephen Strange is introduced as an astoundingly arrogant surgeon who knows very well how good he is and what he is capable of. In a conversation between him and his former love interest, how he views himself and his ability is made abundantly clear.
His arrogance is further demonstrated during a trip to a conference when he specifically takes the time to find a patient not to help heal them, but rather to inflate his own reputation. In a moment of arrogance, he takes his eyes off the road to study a patient’s notes. The car crashes and Strange has his hands utterly destroyed in the accident.
All across mythology we see the role that arrogance plays in the development of a hero. They serve as reminders to stay humble and pay attention. The Sumerian god Marduk is an example often called upon by Jordan Peterson and others on the importance of paying attention. Doctor Strange’s arrogance shows that he felt like he did not need to pay attention as he already knew all he needed to know.
His hands could not be saved and he is thrown into chaos while he tries to find a way to climb back up the hierarchy he once stood at the top of. This happens to people all the time. They have something happen to them and they desperately try to fix themselves to get back in the world that they know. Often you can do this, but he cannot. His days as a surgeon are over, but he refuses to realize it. He spends all the money he has to try and find some cure, but it is all in vain.
His descent into chaos or psychological hell is complete when he pushes away the one person, Christine, that still cares about him and lashes out at her during an argument. The look on his face during that scene is almost like looking at a gargoyle. His downfall is complete. He is in Hell and desperate.
Doctor Strange soon discovers that one of the patients he rejected because the hopelessness of the case has made a full recovery. He seeks out this patient and the patient, Jonathan Pangborn, tells him about a place in Katmandu, Nepal where he went to get healed. Strange gathers up his last remaining funds and travels to Nepal in search of Kamar-Taj. Once there he meets the Ancient One.
Again, his arrogance is shown as he refuses to believe her claims about magic being connected to Pangborn’s miraculous healing. Only once he is shown a new realm does he believe, and it is almost like the last remaining parts of his ego evaporates as he is shown this. But because of his previous arrogance, the Ancient One refuses to train him. He is thrown into the street, but because of his change of heart, he refuses to give up.
This can be seen as a way of showing that once you have been thrown into chaos and you find something that gives you meaning, you should hold on to it. Only through meaning can you drag yourself out of the chaos that inhabits your inner world. The Ancient One is finally convinced by his determination and allows Doctor Strange to be taught the mystic ways.
During his training, he slowly kills off his own ego. This happens among other things when the Ancient One decides to transport him to the top of a mountain where he almost dies of exposure due to his inability to believe in himself.
After a while his talent for learning is kicks in and he starts to master the arts and discovers that his thirst for knowledge is as great as it was when he was a doctor. He dives into more forbidden arts and goes further into the unknown. Doctor Strange discovers he is no longer afraid of the unknown and he does as the stereotypical hero does, categorizing the world and organizing the chaos.
A side effect of his categorization of the world is that when the sanctuaries are attacked he finds himself less likely to be thrown into chaos. When the Ancient One inevitably dies, he is of course distraught, but he manages to gather himself and others to fight the unknown in the guise of Dormammu, a creature of destruction from a different dimension.
Strange then goes through the last death of his ego by using the time traveling ability of the Eye of Agamotto and dying several deaths to keep Dormammu at bay. This results in Dormammu giving up and leaving humanity’s dimension alone. It is then that we see that the arrogance of Doctor Strange has been tamed, and he may now step into his role as a hero.