From the outset I wanted Shouts from a Third Act to zero in on Art and its power to illuminate–to lift our battered hearts and minds out of the muck–so I’ll refrain from talking politics except to say I woke up with a killer hangover on Wednesday even though no alcohol was consumed Tuesday night. I think we can all agree it’s been an extremely long and contentious Presidential Election Year. Maybe, I thought, Dr. Strange would be a better cure than a bottle of Advil.
When the movie opened last weekend, it was bound to draw some huge crowds, in part due to the star power of the hugely popular Benedict Cumberbatch. His on-going role as a modern-day Sherlock Holmes in the British TV series has created a Movement of Obsessed Fans. He’s also, of course, turned in great performances on the big screen, including that of real-life Alan Turing, the British mathematician turned code-breaker who helped save the world from the Nazis, only to die by his own hand after he was exposed and disgraced for being gay. (The Imitation Game)
Cumberbatch plays brilliant extremely well. In the current film, he’s arrogant neurosurgeon Dr. Stephen Strange, but his beloved hands fail him after a horrific car accident. (A clip from that scene might resonate if used for a Don’t Text and Drive Campaign.) However, as sometimes happens in life, his misfortune is a turning point for him to grow as a man–and a savior. Instead of saving hundreds of people as a brilliant surgeon, he goes on to save millions of people–and ultimately mankind–as a supremely talented sorcerer. It’s the classic Good vs. Evil storyline, a special niche in which fantasy and comic book heroes excel.
Fantasy is not my favorite genre, although maybe it’s your favorite or your children’s or your best friend’s. There’s good reason why fantasy is fantastically popular (Harry Potter, anyone?) and it deserves my respect. The best fantasy touches on BIG themes. Apart from Good vs. Evil (where Good always triumphs), it reminds us that the world is large and we are small. Shakespeare said it beautifully many centuries ago:
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” from Hamlet
The Bard’s memorable words rang in my ears as I was leaving Dr. Strange. As they did after watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy a number of years ago. Comparing the two might be like comparing grapes to plums in the sense that the Academy Award-winning trilogy was based on the high-brow novel by J.R.R. Tolkien, an Oxford University professor, whereas Dr. Strange rose from the pages of a comic book written by a seemingly average Joe–Steve Ditko. And yet even comic books can dispense wisdom and give us “a-ha” moments.
In the course of his sorcerer training, Dr. Strange acquires the magical power to travel to other dimensions, and the special effects in the film are dazzling, inventive enough to cure Election Night hangovers or whatever else ails you–at least for a couple of hours. Only this morning did a strange thought occur to me. Donald J. Trump has just won the highest office in the land. Hillary Clinton just lost a race she was expected to win. Chances are good she will never be our first female President. However, after being denied her greatest goal, what if she goes on to achieve an even greater good for the world which nobody now can foresee?