The next superhero from the Marvel universe will soon grace the screen. Your average moviegoer may not be familiar with Doctor Strange, but on November 4 the character will be brought to life—played by Benedict Cumberbatch.
I read my fair share of comics growing up. I had an uncle with an extensive collection of classic comics, so I read Daredevil, Iron Man and other comic series extensively. However, other than a passing knowledge of the name Doctor Strange I don’t know much about the character, his powers, or how he fits into the Marvel cinematic universe.
One thing that seems to separate Doctor Strange from most of his superhero brethren is the way in which he obtains his abilities. He doesn’t get bitten by a radioactive spider, and he isn’t the result of some sort of secret military experiment gone wrong. He also isn’t a billionaire with so much money and time on his hands that he has nothing better to do than invent technologies that allow him to battle super villains. I don’t want to give away any spoilers for this origin story movie, but Doctor Strange gets his powers the old fashioned way—he earns them through studying and dedication.
What is both challenging and interesting about that—and about trying to turn this character into a live action superhero feature film—is the interaction between science and spirituality. Doctor Strange is a neurosurgeon, but he is exposed to mystic arts that transcend space, time and reality. I haven’t seen the movie, but from what I know of the comic book character and from what I have seen in the trailer, that struggle to reconcile his scientific understanding with his spiritual experience is at the heart of the movie.
With that in mind, there is perhaps no better person to act as Science Consultant for the film than Adam Frank. Adam Frank is a professor of astrophysics at the University of Rochester. He is also an author who has addressed the issue at the core of this movie in his 2010 book The Constant Fire: Beyond the Science vs. Religion Debate. The director of Doctor Strange, Scott Derrickson, first learned of Frank from this book and that is ultimately how Frank ended up acting as science advisor for a superhero movie.
I had a chance to speak with Frank. He and I seem to have a lot of views and interests in common, so it was an engaging conversation—at least in my opinion. We talked about the multiverse, and the relationship between the vivid experience we have of this world, and the mind. The mind is simultaneously both a scientific and a spiritual enigma. From a reductionist sense, scientists can say the mind is comprised of neurons, that are made of atoms, that are comprised of quarks—and yet the science doesn’t seem to adequately explain the wonder or power of the mind when it comes to either understanding or creating our reality.
Frank explained that Doctor Strange uses the open issue of human consciousness to link to the multiverse. According to Frank, the movie is rooted in science and uses science quite beautifully as a narrative device to tell the story of where Doctor Strange derives his power from.
I am looking forward to the movie to learn more about this character and see for myself how the balance between science and spirituality is conveyed. I also want to get a better idea of who Doctor Strange is as a character and hero, so I can try to determine where or how he fits into the greater Marvel cinematic universe and what role he will play in Avengers: Infinity War.
I’m very interested in reading Frank’s book now. Unfortunately, it’s not available for Kindle. It is available from Frank’s website, though, in both paperback and Adobe PDF formats. Maybe I’ll just put it on my birthday list.