Doctor Strange began with a Wonder Woman trailer (among others) emphasizing how long Marvel is making us wait for a superheroine movie. At the same time, The Ancient One, Strange’s mentor, does a decent job bringing us this archetype; many of the symbolic tools she passes to her protégé are likewise strikingly feminine.
She begins the film in complete control (much like Wonder Woman in all we’ve seen of her). With spinning circles of golden light that she wields as blades, she decimates the foes led by Mads Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius. Further, she has complete control of the world around her, bending and warping reality to entrap them. Finally, she ends the fight by summoning a golden wheel of spinning fire and walking through her portal without an extra breath spent.
Magic leaves sparkler trails when the characters gesture their way through spells, forming shields or whiplike weapons or cool patterns just for the showy hell of it. It makes the air crackle like a sheet of ice when they travel to the mirror dimension, which is like our dimension, only less easily damaged in fight scenes. Magic warps reality itself in Doctor Strange, making buildings fold in on themselves and streets bend and curve in impossible directions, twisting and turning like the world is a Rubik’s Cube in the hands of an impatient child. It allows rooms to stretch out like elastic, then snap back into shape. (Willmore).
Saffron robes suggest enlightenment and, with the hood drawn up, mystery. She’s cool, in a way Doctor Strange longs to become.Meanwhile s bald woman is surprising, suggesting an androgynous hybrid.
“Look, she’s a chameleon in everything she does,” says Feige of Swinton, whose credits include Snowpiercer, Trainwreck, and 1992’s Orlando, in which her character transformed from male to female. “She has this amazing [ability to] harness of this androgynous sense. So, we use the term ‘her’ and ‘she’ in the film but, other than that, it’s very androgynous. Because it doesn’t matter.” (Collis)
The androgene, in myth, is a magical person, with skills and wisdom of both genders. Thus She will teach Doctor Strange how to use his hidden feminine side, all while battling male foes on the battlefield. When EW asked Swinton whether she is playing a man or a woman, the actress responded, that “I wouldn’t know how to answer that one. I think it’s all in the eye of the beholder” (Collis).
Her perfect poise, supported with dramatic music, then switches to more popular tunes as Strange appears in his operating room. This dramatic juxtaposition emphasizes their contrast: She has devoted her life to serving the world, but he is still very much part of it, seeking fame and material success. When he’s crippled, Pangborn sends him to Kamar-Taj in Kathmandu, a place of “gurus and sacred women” where he can learn magic.
Casting a forty-year-old white woman as “The Ancient One” of Kathmandu subverts all expectations. When Strange meets her, she’s quietly serving tea, while he logically assumes the seated elderly Asian man is the ancient one. She corrects him with a self-aware smirk. Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) has told Strange at the gate, “Stephen Strange, might I offer you some advice? Forget everything that you think you know.” However, Strange is still surprised over and over.
Of course, casting Tilda Swinton (however excellent a job she does) is a problematic moment of whitewashing.
It is absolutely unsurprising that Swinton is terrific in the role — embodying ageless beings is one of her many strong suits, from her gender-switching, century-spanning turn in Orlando to her patchouli-scented vampire in Only Lovers Left Alive. But not even the rewarding sight of a mischievous, hairless Swinton informing the film’s self-centered protagonist, “It’s not about you,” can obscure the point that Doctor Strange has missed. The film doesn’t actually get away from the cliché of a white guy soaking up Eastern wisdom and turning out to be a more gifted practitioner than the people it originated from. It just scoops out and replaces the character who’d traditionally be the source of all that wisdom, rather than figure out a way to improve and deepen him. In doing so, Doctor Strange ends up treating Asianness like it’s a lifestyle choice rather than having anything to do with culture or race. (Willmore)
Destroying the themes of the “Tibetan-mystic-hidden in-the-mountains,” stereotype by subverting age, costume, and gender rather than race would make a much more progressive statement. Likewise, Wong, while an amusing character who now has a much less subservient personality, was mostly left out of advertising and trailers. This when Daredevil fights hordes of faceless ninjas and Iron Fist also has disturbing racial questions makes the MCU seem more than a little backwards.
In fact, the entire movie has cultural stereotyping throughout: “It calls upon a classic kind of Orientalism, blurring culture to revel in a vague sense of Asian exoticism without bothering with specifics, and, more pressingly, without the people,” Allison Willmore explains. As she adds:
The worst of those half-steps is also a matter of visuals. Kamar-Taj is a mishmash of Asiana — it’s in Nepal, but its residents like clothing that’s Japanese-inspired, especially in the combination of robes and the obi-like sash favored by the villain Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), a former Ancient One pupil gone wrong. Strange, upon arriving, is shown a book in which an MRI chart is placed alongside a chakra and acupuncture one. The latticework panels that line the walls look like chinoiserie, while the courtyard seems modeled after a Buddhist temple. The saffron garb the Ancient One is first spotted in seems to recall those of a Buddhist monk as well, though it’s not religion she teaches, per se — more a new way of looking at the universe. Christine, when she re-encounters Strange, muses that it sounds like he’s joined a cult, and Kamar-Taj does, at times, feel like a particularly demanding meditation retreat.
Of course, the institute continues to subvert expectations: its students come from many races, especially the Black character Mordo, who’s generally front and center. Later, Mordo hands Strange a card with Shamballa written on it, but denies Strange’s guess that it’s a mantra he should meditate to, saying, “It’s the wi-fi password. We’re not savages.” Wong, who actually has a quirky sense of humor, listens to Beyoncé.
Nonetheless, Strange is instantly skeptical of the Ancient One’s teachings. She shows him a chakra chart beside an acupuncture chart and an MRI, emphasizing that each artist has part of the puzzle – spiritual knowledge is as valid as science. Of course, Western medicine is notoriously skeptical of acupuncture and Strange complains that he’s seen the Chakra drawings in gift shops (a valid complaint, as the deep spiritual practice has gone mainstream). He insists, “I don’t believe in fairytales about chakras or energy or the power of belief.”
If these stories are all about a chosen one who can save the world, the Ancient One is the chooser. She eyes a skeptical Strange. “You wonder what I see in your future? Possibility.” When he dares to shove her in anger, she then pushes his astral form out from his body. Strange is still skeptical, demanding, “Did you put mushrooms in my tea? Was my tea drugged?” However, she responds calmly that it’s “Just tea. With honey.” She needn’t use magician’s props because she’s already magic incarnate. As she explains, she had to show him a deeper reality. “You’re a man looking at the world through a keyhole. You’ve spent your life trying to widen it. Your work saved the lives of thousands. What if I told you that reality is one of many?” She also opens his third eye, through only her touch. After she pushed him through a tangle of alternate dimensions, overwhelming in their majesty and horror, he’s convinced. “Magic sends the movie’s title character, Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), spinning through the cosmos, through black-light multiverse dimensions, and through the pupil of his own giant eyeball. The look is a little bit The Matrix, a little bit Inception, a little bit Dark City, and all acid trip” (Willmore). First he’s hurled into space, overlooking the planets, with a gently flapping butterfly. These delicate creatures symbolized the soul, but Strange cannot grasp it before he tumbles away. There’s a dark world of purple, a magical one that’s blue with psychedelic colors. Glowing blue crystals suggest the heavenly serenity he lacks but that awaits him.
Through the trip, she maintains complete control, hauling his body back for a moment to examine it, then throwing him back into the cosmos. She narrates, like the overarching form of god – a mother who can pick up and put down that baby as she pleases. At last, he returns, stunned. She smiles, “Have you seen that at a gift shop?”
He falls at her feet, humbled and gasping. “Teach me.”
She considers for a moment. “No.”
Her people throw him out, and he must humble himself at her door, accept that he knows nothing and show his determination before he’s finally welcomed. In a vivid symbol, his watch is as shattered as he is. Since it’s from Christine, it symbolizes her love, which Strange holds onto even though it’s destroyed. Watches symbolize man’s preoccupation with time – they are artificial and Strange keeps his all locked in a drawer, suggesting a control over these trophies. When he approaches Kamar-Taj, it’s shattered, emphasizing that he will have to throw away such physical controls.
Mordo describes the Ancient One as unpredictable and “merciless yet kind” – a host of contradictions indicating her multifaceted nature. The mentor understands the workings of the universe in a way the untried hero does not. In many ways, becoming a spiritual tutor is more of a women’s role, and especially appropriate for the mature man. The elderly Dumbledore, Gandalf, or Obi-Wan teaches the young hero to use his powers but also shows him how to grow up. Strange is already grown, and all his training has focused on the physical world of prestige and control. He knows science and has built a reputation based in his accomplishments. Thus the spiritual woman can introduce him to his untapped mystical, self-effacing side.
When their lessons begin, she opens a classic protective circle with the nine sephirot inside. Etz Chiym, the Tree of Life, is the symbol at the heart of the Kabbalah. It encapsulates creation, existence and the return to the Divine in ten spheres called sephirot and the twenty-two paths through which they interrelate. The sephirot are the 10 attributes/emanations in Kabbalah, through which Ein Sof (The Infinite) reveals himself:
Keter, the Divine Crown
Shekhinah, God’s Presence in the World
They emphasize a path to enlightenment through selflessness and awareness of the universe – traits Strange most needs to acquire. The shape is also connected to the World Symbol – the entire world order (consisting of spheres) held together by “a mysterious, unseen central force that the Hindus called Maya – the Goddess who created the material universe” (Walker 63). The World Tree of Thor’s Norse mythology has a similar image.
The most basic magic is the portal, a fiery wheel conjured with a double-circled finger ring. Circles are particularly feminine symbols, suggesting the lifecycle. “The universe begins with roundness; so say the myths,” Walker says. “The great circle, the cosmic egg, the bubble, the spiral, the moon, the zero, the wheel of time, the infinite womb; such are the symbols that try to express a human sense of the wholeness of things” (2). Gauntlets, wristbands (seen later) and rings accentuate the acts of the hands – symbol of active power. Thus the physical power is augmented with the spiritual, something that confuses Strange, who’s certain his shaking hands are stopping him from achieving the latter.
Hands are a masculine symbol, indicating the worker and emphasizing his effect on his environment. Strange has loss the full use of this physical tool and thus must replace it with mental and spiritual ones. When the Ancient One has Master Hamir show that he can do magic with one hand missing, she teaches that physical power is not the only form of strength. She thus teaches him to surrender his will rather than trying to impose it on the world. She also abandons him on Mount Everest, a place higher and physically mightier than he is, to emphasize he will not win with physical gifts.
When Mordo spars with Strange, he orders him to defend himself, and Strange creates his first weapon – a glowing cord stretched between his hands. In ancient myth, cords bound the earth to the heavens and people’s minds to their reason. Ropes thus emphasize interconnection and bonds between body and spirit. The Fates spun a lifeline for each person, and the Egyptian goddess Hathor bound sinners in glowing ribbons. They can also represent the umbilical cord, connecting each person with the divine mother. In Greece, “Ariadne’s thread leading Theseus through the Labyrinth (into the darkness and out again) represented the rebirth journey” (Walker 130). Strange is operating under the Divine Mother’s guidance and also trying to connect with the people around him, leading himself at last in a journey of rebirth.
The Ancient One also offers Strange the Mirror Dimension, where he can train without affecting the physical world. Once again this is a feminine symbol of her power and spirituality, one Doctor Strange uses under her guidance:
Rather than a sign of vanity, this mirror was a divine soul-catcher, or passage to the spirit world, as it was considered universally. Amaterasu’s mirror is her shotai, her god-body. When she bestows it on her grandson, earliest emperor of Japan, she says, “My child, when thou lookest upon this mirror,
let it be as if thou wert looking on me. Let it be with thee on thy couch and in thy hall, and let it be to thee a holy mirror.” Today it is the most sacred image of her at her shrine at Ise.16 Celtic women were buried with their mirrors, as a gateway to the afterlife, and Buddhist and Christian teachings describe
a future in which we can see beyond the shallow reflection of our current existence. Snow White’s stepmother seeks her mirror’s advice as from an oracle, and some magicians trap their victims as “slaves of the mirror” forever. In Egypt, the word for life and mirror is the same (ankh). One reflects the other. In fact, the ankh symbol is an image of the goddess, round head over outstretched arms and upright body. It became known in Egypt as a symbol of sexual union, feminine circle and male cross united. Thus it came to represent immortality, worn by the gods to show their eternal life. (Frankel 47-48)
Mordo tells Doctor Strange that nothing more is known about her “except that she’s Celtic” and really, really old.
While Strange is most closely associated with the Book of Vishanti, the plot begins when the villains steal an incantation taken from the Book of Cagliostro, a magical text penned in the late 18th century that gathers mystical knowledge from countless sources. Books obviously symbolize the intellect and all the wisdom Strange must aquire, so he reads as many as he can. Nonetheless, Strange finds the juxtapositions of science and the occult frustrating:
Dr. Stephen Strange: [on magic] This doesn’t make any sense.
The Ancient One: Not everything does. Not everything has to.
The Ancient One teaches him that he must start over – study and practice his skills as he did through all the years of medical school, but this time take a different path. Instantly, Strange starts cheating the system, learning how to use the mystic Eye of Agamotto to tamper with time. His teachers are aghast, telling him he isn’t just warping time but breaking it and could be stuck in a time loop forever.
The eye as a protective charm is seen most as the Middle Eastern Hamsa/Hand of Fatima or witches’ Evil Eye. Barbara Walker describes the eye as the judging stare of the crone, or the essential eye contact between mother and baby – a formative image that lingers with the child long into adulthood. “So many ancient traditions identify the birth-giving goddess with the All-Seeing Eye that there might well be an archetypal connection” (308). The Hamsa (a protective hand with a blue eye in the center) uses this magic to ward off evil forces. Thus Strange’s long-prized amulet connects him with the mystical feminine side of reality. Its green light suggests the mystic and arcane. The design remains similar to that in the comics, albeit with the addition of the Seal of the Vishanti over the top of the eye. Steve Ditko in fact drew inspiration from the real world charm The All Seeing Eye of the Buddha, which protected its wearer against evil.
When there’s an attack, he stumbles through a portal into the New York Sanctum, wearing the Eye of Agamotto. He fights the invaders with his cord, but they transform the building around him, suggesting a command over reality itself. He summons light wheels like those of his teachers’ but they’re clumsy. He hasn’t yet mastered the magic. Only when he fights them using the world as a tool – switching the portal to different locations – does he succeed. He fights them with a kind of torch with a bowllike cauldron on the end. Kaecilius smirks. “You don’t know how to use that, do you?” Of course, the is another feminine symbol, combining the bowl of the womb with the flame of enlightenment — Strange can’t yet master either. Kaecilius smashes him into a display case, where the Cloak of Levitation escapes and protects him.
A cloak suggests disguise and concealment – feminine attributes in folklore. Red is often the color of the mature woman, the mother, brimming with life energy, while his tunic, blue as the sky, suggests spiritual enlightenment. In classic art, the Virgin Mary wears a blue cloak and red robe – the reversal of Doctor Strange. The Cloak of Levitation shields Strange from blows and drags him to the weapons room where it pulls him away from swords and spears of physical, masculine battle, in favor of a more defensive straightjacket.
With Kaecilius entrapped, the men talk and Strange discovers Kaecilius has an agenda much like his own – to end mankind’s suffering and death. When he calls life “little sparks,” Strange must accept that they think the same way. Nonetheless, he defies Kaecilius, insisting, “The Sorcerer Supreme defends existence.” When his enemies wound him, he portals back to Christine and gets her help in healing him as he fights on the astral plane. Nonetheless, he blends his old world and new, using the defibrillator to power his astral self.
At last the cavalry comes and Strange flings himself, Mordo, and the enemies into the mirror world. To his shock, however, they are stronger there. The heroes are losing, tossed around a shifting reality, until, suddenly, the Ancient One joins the fight. Instantly, she takes control, creating a swirling stable patterned floor underneath them. Her symbol is reminiscent of the Celtic triquetra, three circular arcs enclosed by a circle, reflecting a protective Pagan or Christian trinity. Her glowing circle weapons become fans, a feminine image of defense and concealment. At once, Mordo realizes she wields the power of darkness as well as light. However, Strange realizes that everyone compromises, that her knowledge of darkness has made her more equipped to fight. This lesson appears in stories of Hulk and Daredevil, but Mordo rejects it. Meanwhile, the Ancient One fights valiantly, but is defeated.
Strange brings her to the hospital, and finally humbles himself to ask Doctor West for help – he’s learning to let go. When he sees the Ancient One’s astral form float away as his team operates, he follows. Under a sky full of stars and snowflakes, with flashes of lightning, they talk. Winter signifies age and death – an ending to things. Lightning is conflict, magic, emotion – all the things Strange stands poised to embrace. Stars suggest the infinite. There, the Ancient One tells Strange he must choose between medicine and magic. She also must tell him, “Arrogance and fear still keep you from learning the simplest and most significant lesson of all…It’s not about you.”
He takes this lesson to heart for the final conflict. He uses the Eye to save the innocents around the Taiwan Institute, then fashions himself, not a weapon but a simple protective device. His green armbands of looped time break all the rules, much as his teacher did. Like her methods, they’re effective. They suggest the arcane power of magic combined with the simple human magic of his long-shattered watch, now restored to a stronger, if different form – like himself.
Using his own cleverness and instance on breaking rules, he flies off to confront the smoky-headed Dormammu. The image for this head is actually Cumberbatch’s, emphasizing that he’s the tiny voice of reason and altruism within, battling his monstrous, selfish greed. The world around them is purple with bruise-colored spheres like a wound…or like dark magic. This is the enemy’s stronghold, where the hero has no power. Thus Dormammu kills him over and over. Sometimes the hero’s task is to endure, weaponless, to sacrifice all he has to save innocents. This Strange does, dying over and over to prolong life on earth, saying only “Dormammu, I’ve come to bargain,” until he wears down the villain with his passive resistance. On a few occasions, he defends himself with golden shields, suggesting a new mastery, but each time, he dies. He’s at last learned to surrender his will, saying “I could lose again and again and again forever.” At this, Dormammu finally gives in.
Returning to earth, Strange does not kill Kaecilius and his goons, but gives them what they always wanted — eternal life as part of the one they worship. He has saved the world as mastered the powers of his master, the Sorcerer Supreme. Nonetheless, he sets aside the Eye of Agamotto until he’s ready. Since it’s an Infinity Stone, this suggests setting aside entry into the MCU multifilm conflict, though his time will come soon enough.
If you enjoyed this analysis, do check out more with The Avengers Face Their Dark Sides: Mastering the Myth-Making behind the Marvel Superheroes https://www.amazon.com/Avengers-Face-Their-Dark-Sides/dp/0692432450
• Doctor Strange first appeared in Strange Tales #110 in 1963, by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. His origin story only came in his fourth appearance, in Strange Tales #115. The movie plot is about right.
• In the comics, the book was stolen by Baron Mordo so he could use its power to defeat the Ancient One. In the movie, Kaecilius takes his place, but Mordo makes the journey to villain through the film. In Strange Tales, Kaecilius is one of Mordo’s disciples. Here he takes Mordo’s place as villain, while Mordo gets a more extensive origin story. In the comics, the book contains the knowledge to control time. In the movie, it explains how to use the Eye of Agamotto to achieve the same end.
• In the comics Christine Palmer is actually the name of one of the Night Nurses (there have been three). Another Night Nurse is Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson), the ER nurse who ends up helping out the various members of the future Defenders during their shows.
• The song playing while Strange has his life-changing car crash is the psychedelic rock classic “Interstellar Overdrive” (1967) by Pink Floyd. The band featured artwork from Strange Tales #158 on the cover of their second album, A Saucerful of Secrets (1968), which featured the Living Tribunal.
• Some of Dr. Stephen Strange’s prospective surgical patients include an Air Force colonel injured in a suit of armor. The timing is wrong for Col. James Rhodes, aka War Machine. But it might be the soldier who was injured testing Justin Hammer’s Iron Man armor back in Iron Man 2, shown in the courtroom scene. Strange rejects an elderly woman to preserve his statistics and is also told about a young woman with schizophrenia and an inhibitor chip who was struck by lightning. This last might be significant — Lodestone and Nebula have had implants to either control or enhance them.
• Dr. Nick West, who in the movie has a rivalry with Doctor Strange, is based on Nicodemus West, a doctor who, in the comics cannot save Strange’s hands after his car accident. West is a prominent character in The Oath (2007), a popular five-issue Doctor Strange miniseries by Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin, which heavily influenced the tone of the movie
• The scene where Strange wakes in the hospital bed is framed in homage to this cover shot comes from Brandon Peterson’s run on Doctor Strange, which shows the car crash origin.
• A few throwaway lines from the Ancient One recall some of Strange’s comics titles. She refers to “the language of the mystic arts,” and Doc is known as the “master of the mystic arts” in the comics. Her title is Sorcerer Supreme, eventually his own.
• Wong connects Strange to the larger Marvel universe when he explains, “Heroes like the Avengers protect the world from physical dangers. We safeguard it against more mystical threats.”
• Avengers Tower appears in its rightful place as part of the New York City skyline.
• The Ancient One’s home of Kamar-Taj has always been part of the story, though it wasn’t named until much later in the comics.
• When Strange is finally allowed to stay with The Ancient One, Mordo hands him a piece of paper with “Shamballa” written on it. Mordo deadpans that it is the Wi-Fi password. It also nods to the famous Doctor Strange storyline “Into Shamballa”, in which Strange was given the chance to shepherd in a golden age for mankind, but at a cost so severe he couldn’t bear to pay it. This reflects the theme of this film – the cost of power.
• Many theorize that Ejiofor’s role is a combination of Doctor Voodoo, the Houngan Supreme (like a Sorcerer Supreme, but for Voodoo), and Baron Mordo.
• Wong first appeared in Strange Tales #110, as a stereotypical servant, who could fight but not use magic. Here he’s been updated with more of a personality, a position of authority, and Sorcerer powers.
• Trying to break the ice with Wong, Doctor Strange asks if he just has a single name “like Adele” and then proceeds to mention Bono, Eminem and Drake as well as Aristotle, getting in piles of pop culture. When the pair meet again, Strange compares Wong to Beyoncé, a comment Wong ignores, then later he’s seen listening to her on his walkman.
• The Book of Vishanti is “off limits” to Strange until he steals it from Wong. In the comics, The Vishanti are a trio of benevolent Gods from the multiverse. Agamotto was appointed by the Vishanti before ascending to become one of them.
• An Extra called Clem So with long white hair also appears as one of the sorcerers – he was in Guardians Of The Galaxy in the prison, with the artificial leg.
• One of the mages at Kamar-Taj is Tina Minoru (played by Linda Louise Duan). She is a link to The Runaways comics universe, since she is the mother of teen heroine Nico Minoru. Tina wields the Staff of One, which she eventually leaves to Nico.
• Master Hamir – the sorcerer with one hand – is an allusion to Hamir the Hermit. In early issues of Strange Tales, he was the Ancient One’s personal servant and later the father of Wong.
• Mordo wears the Vaulting Boots of Valtorr — Valtorr is a powerful mystical entity Strange invokes repeatedly in the comics.
• The Living Tribunal may not have a staff, but his existence is set up here. In comics, he’s powerful enough to battle the Infinity Gauntlet.
• The Book of Cagliostro comes out of the Steve Englehart/Frank Brunner Doctor Strange comics
• Doc’s Sanctum Sanctorum at 177a Bleecker Street with its distinctive window with the Sanctum rune appears. From the very first story it was listed as being in Greenwich Village, a more bohemian and dangerous place in 1963 than currently.
• There was initially going to be an Easter Egg specifically pointing to The Black Knight. The New York Sanctum includes the Black Knight’s headwear.
• The Crimson Bands Of Cyttorak is a spell that sends red coloured bands of energy out of Strange’s hands like whips to bind his enemies. His magical cord weapon seems reminiscent of this.
• Doctor Strange was given the Cloak of Levitation by the Ancient One at the conclusion of his second battle with Dormammu (in Strange Tales #127), and he kept the look ever since. the Eye of Agamotto is his best-known accessory.
• Doctor Strange and Mordo’s outfits are closely modelled on their traditional comic book looks, from the former’s white streaks in his hair, blue belted tunic and flowing red cape to Mordo’s green robes.
• The Oath echoes the movie scene in which Christine Palmer operates on Strange while speaking to his astral form. Both star Palmer, though in the comics, she’s Night Nurse.
• From Doctor Strange’s first appearance he’s doing astral projection. The astral plane fistfight is right out of Strange Tales #111, in which Strange and Mordo battle, knocking each other through walls and so forth.
• The Ancient One is first introduced in Strange Tales #110, as Doctor Strange consults with him before taking on a case. The Ancient One in the comics does draw power from the Dark Dimension – his name is often uttered in various spells and incantations by both Doctor Strange and The Ancient One.
• In Steve Englehart and Frank Brunner’s A Separate Reality, the Ancient One gives Strange a mysterious metaphysical pep talk then dies.
• While the smoky-headed Dormammu didn’t appear until Strange Tales #126, he was mentioned all the time and is Strange’s most well-known foe
• The Eye of Agamotto, which can manipulate time, is finally revealed as the Time Stone, one of the Infinity Stones — only the Soul Stone now remains unaccounted for in the MCU.
• The Master of the New York Sanctum is referred to as Drumm. This is Daniel Drumm, the brother of Jericho Drumm, Brother Voodoo, a heroic sorcerer in the Marvel comics.
• When he prepares for battle, Wong is seen grabbing a kind of magical staff, in fact, the Wand of Watoomb.
• Strange’s original artist – Steve Ditko – gets homages with some of the art, especially The Dark Dimension. The tiny Doctor in the world of strange connected spheres is all him.
• Strange slams into the side of a bus on which Stan Lee is reading Aldous Huxley’s 1954 essay, The Doors of Perception, an account of using mescaline, which is a hallucinogen similar to LSD. This references the trippy quality of Steve Ditko’s early work on Strange, and the sixties counterculture it foreshadowed.
• There are a significant number of similarities between this film and the animated Doctor Strange film from 2007. In both, Dr Strange is taught personally by the Ancient One about reality warping, and by Wong, and the Ancient One’s disciples travel the world. Strange also has a female “sidekick,” with Gina Atwater instead of Christine Palmer. In both, Baron Mordo is black and develops a resentment for what Strange and his fellow Sorcerers have become.
• The facial capture for Dormammu was performed by Benedict Cumberbatch, while the voice was provided by an unidentified British actor.
The more I thought about it the more I liked the idea,” said Derrickson. “Because no one understood Dormammu better than Benedict did. I also wrote that role to be a kind of ultra-inflated version of Strange. He is an ego run amok; he is this cosmic conqueror where everything, where literally everything in the multi-verse is about him.There’s something interesting about this confrontation of this little, tiny guy who has this power of time and this monstrous conqueror who is trapped by a clever gambit. There’s something about that worked well, and I didn’t think anybody to interact with Benedict than he, himself.” (“13 Coolest”)
• In the comics too Strange and Dormammu are forced into a pact when Strange helps save the demon from the Mindless Ones and Dormammu is forced to agree not to ever attack Earth again.
• When Kaecilius and his associates are banished into the Dark Dimension, they transform into blob-like, one-eyed creatures known as the Mindless Ones. These extra-dimensional creatures with no will of their own attack many Marvel characters. They may appear in films to come.
• The warnings come after the instructions repeatedly…and at the film’s end, there’s another warning – this one about distracted driving.
• Thor appears in the first post-credits scene and sets up Thor: Ragnarok, as he searches for his father, Odin. Strange did team-up with Thor in an early story involving Loki.
• The second post-credits scene shows Mordo’s development as a villain. In the comics, Mordo is Doctor Strange’s rival, introduced in Strange Tales #111, with an origin story in Strange Tales #115.
If you enjoyed this analysis, do check out more with The Avengers Face Their Dark Sides: Mastering the Myth-Making behind the Marvel Superheroes https://www.amazon.com/Avengers-Face-Their-Dark-Sides/dp/0692432450
“13 Coolest Doctor Strange Easter Eggs, References, and Trivia.” IGN, 26 Oct 2016 http://www.ign.com/articles/2016/10/26/13-coolest-doctor-strange-easter-eggs-references-and-trivia?page=1. Web.
Collis, Clark. “Tilda Swinton Says her Doctor Strange character’s Gender Is ‘in the eye of the beholder’” EW, 30 Dec 2015. http://www.ew.com/article/2015/12/30/doctor-strange-tilda-swinton-ancient-one. Web.
Frankel, Valerie Estelle. From Girl to Goddess: The Heroine’s Journey in Myth and Legend. McFarland and Co., 2010. Print.
Walker, Barbara G. The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects. Harper, 1988. Print.
Willmore, Alison. “The Incredible Visuals and Unfortunate Orientalism of “Doctor Strange.” BuzzFeed, 27 Oct., 2016. https://www.buzzfeed.com/alisonwillmore/doctor-strange-review. Web.