Critic’s Corner: Do the ends justify the means?


Finally having gotten the chance to see Marvel’s Doctor Strange over Christmas break, I was both pleasantly surprised and disappointed.

The story of an egotistic, rich neurosurgeon whose tragic car accident leads him to Nepal in  search of healing for his hands, Doctor Strange was in many ways a masterpiece. Strange  ultimately comes into contact with The Ancient One and her group of sorcerers, who combat the  force of the Dark Dimension and can open portals to other realms and worlds.

I was certainly not the only one who enjoyed the breathtaking cinematography, particularly in the  Mirror Realm, and I believe we can all appreciate the intriguing special effects used to generate  portals to various other places. It was truly a visual treat for the eyes.

The predictable story line redeems itself through the excellent casting of Benedict Cumberbatch and Tilda Swinton, who play out the story quite believably—perhaps too believably.

My only objection regarding character consists of the fact that these two, among others, are very  type cast. Seeing as they have both played extremely similar characters in the past, we as the  audience are not at all surprised by how their characters play out.

Even when Swinton’s character, The Ancient One, confesses to using the power of the dark force  to keep herself alive for hundreds of years, we somehow know that it is true, though of course we wish it weren’t. It simply makes sense, given what we know of her acting history. The White Witch would do anything for more power.

As for Cumberbatch, he plays the arrogant, self-centered doctor who doesn’t appear to have a heart until it really matters. Sound like Sherlock, anyone? Yet again, we know that we will see  his heart expose itself eventually. Sure enough, once Strange finally accepts the power of sorcery,  he not only masters it very quickly, but begins to work for the cause against the Dark Dimension and even shows part of his heart to Christine, his former lover.

The fact that Strange masters the arts of sorcery quickly enough to be able to fight the enemies as well as he does is not only unrealistic, but also quite frustrating to the viewer. Not only is he or she reminded of a similar circumstance in a recent Star Wars movie, but also feels cut off from  sympathy with the character with whom he or she can no longer relate. Strange’s initial  confusion with the mystic arts makes us almost feel sorry for him, if he weren’t so arrogant. But  once he starts reading while sleeping (by means of separating his spirit from his body), we give  up on ever finding common ground with him again.

Yet these are minor details.The primary question of the movie is: When, if ever, it is permissible to use the power of the Dark Dimension in order to do good?

Strange and his companions are initially surprised to find out that The Ancient One has been using this power to prolong her life, and Strange does not even want to believe that such a thing  could be true, himself believing this to be wrong.

Yet, by the end of the film, after a personal encounter with Dormammu, ruler of the Dark  Dimension, Strange and the majority of his companions seem to have come to a compromise in  this regard. As long as The Ancient One is still fighting for the right side, and they win against Dormammu, they don’t care what means she uses.

All except one. Mordo, Strange’s friend and fellow sorcerer, is the one companion who claims  that truth is black and white, and that it is truly wrong to use evil means to accomplish a good  end. He leaves the temple in Nepal and the rest of the sorcerers, essentially claiming that he  cannot deal with it all anymore. And this is where the main part of the movie ends.

We decide that we shall have to wait until the next movie to make a legitimate judgment about  how The Ancient One and Doctor Strange’s philosophy will play out, and whether we can  forgive them for this error in reasoning.

For the Catholic Church teaches that the end never justifies the means, no matter how good the end may be which one is trying to reach. This discredits the reason for fighting against evil, if one claims that this evil is useful to accomplish one’s good goals.

The real problem with the movie arises at the very end scene, after the credits have finished. In typical Marvel fashion, this short blip is confusing and leads into the next movie.

This scene shows Mordo turn from fighting for the good to stealing the powers of  sorcery from another man. This sets him up to be the next villain in the coming Doctor Strange movies.

Yet what kind of message is this sending to Marvel’s viewers? The one character who had black  and white morals turns out to be someone we cannot trust, someone who is in fact fighting  against us. Thus it is “best” to view the situation the way the hero, Strange, does since he is still  fighting against evil and defeating it. The ends justify the means.

I am not saying that Doctor Strange was a bad, or immoral, movie. I personally enjoyed many  aspects of it. Yet I cannot get behind this underlying message which it projects. I would  encourage us all to analyze the movies that we watch with greater attention to detail so that we  are not unintentionally taken in by the subtle lies of the modern world. Good and bad, black and  white, are divided because one is wrong and one is right. If this is true, no matter the intentions,  the ends cannot justify the means.