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Doctor Strange: The Madness of Love

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Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness talks constantly about happiness, but the film is actually concerned with something much deeper—love. Both Stephen Strange and Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch, fail to love as they should. Despite how the movie casts the characters, however, it may be Wanda who’s closer to realizing the meaning of love.

Reflections on Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness

Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness may be better understood as a sequel to WandaVision than 2016’s Doctor Strange, or at the very least a co-sequel. It may only be a happy coincidence the film has been abbreviated as Doctor Strange: MoM, but it seems purposeful. The all-consuming love of Wanda Maximoff for her two sons drives the story.

At one point, she explains her plan to use the multiverse to not only find her children, but also to protect them from any and all harms. She says if they get sick, there will be a cure in another universe. The multiverse is her means to avoid any risks in her motherly love. But this ploy won’t work. That’s not love.

Our loves and passions are not always trustworthy.

My mind immediately went to C.S. Lewis in The Four Loves.

  • To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” — C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Wanda attempts to grasp love without vulnerability, but that inevitably brings our heart to the same place—in a dark, safe casket. She has endured a grief-stricken life filled with too many caskets. In WandaVision, Vision comforted Wanda by asking: “What is grief, if not love persevering?” But what is love if it does not persevere through grief? If grief twists and mangles love, instead of reshaping and refining it, that “love” may continue on, but not in a life-giving form. Love consumed by grief can become a storm consuming everything before it.

For the Christian, God is love (1 John 4:8), but love is not God. Our loves and passions are not always trustworthy. We are more than our emotions. In Mere Christianity, Lewis notes how we cannot simply allow one impulse, even one as seemingly wholesome as motherly love or patriotism, to reign over our hearts as a tyrant. “There are also occasions on which a mother’s love for her own children or a man’s love for his own country have to be suppressed or they will lead to unfairness toward other people’s children or countries.” Yes, even a mom’s love or the passion of a patriot can turn demonic.

For his part, Stephen Strange plays the inverse to Wanda. His weakness is not risking too much for love, but rather avoiding all risks. He has not made his heart vulnerable because he occupies it with the task at hand, be that delicate surgery during his time as a medical doctor or world-saving adventures during his time as a superhero.

At one point, Strange admits that he thought all of the hero work would fill the hole inside, but he’s still missing something. He frames it as “happiness,” but really it’s love. Doctor Strange can use magical music notes to fight his multiversal doppelganger, but he can’t cast a spell to bring himself contentment and the love he wants.

Both Strange and Wanda fail to follow love to the proper end, but, as Wanda notes, Stephen is hailed as the hero, while she becomes the enemy. “That doesn’t seem fair.” In a very real way, she’s right.

Leading up to the release director Sam Rami and Marvel head Kevin Feige spoke about how this film forces Strange to confront his arrogance that has been on display since his introduction to the MCU. But I left Multiverse of Madness, still waiting for that to happen.

In his origin story, Strange is an arrogant doctor with supreme confidence in his ability to make the right call with little concern for the ramifications. In Avengers: Infinity War, Strange is an arrogant superhero with supreme confidence in his ability to make the right call with little concern for the ramifications. In Spider-Man: No Way Home, Strange is an arrogant sorcerer with supreme confidence in his ability to make the right call with little concern for the ramifications. And now in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Strange is an arrogant sorcerer with … you get the picture.

To his partial credit, Strange is able to avoid the allure of using others to gain more power for himself. However, he still flippantly uses dark power to accomplish his goals. As Steven Greydanus points out in his review of the film, this exacerbates a problem or at least fails to learn the lesson from the initial Doctor Strange. The Ancient One, Stephen’s sorcery mentor, draws energy from the Dark Dimension to gain extended mortality. Yet, she’s still pictured as the good guy, while Mordo, Stephen’s sorcery trainer, becomes a supposed villain after feeling betrayed by her hypocrisy in their battle against Dormammu, the ruler of the Dark Dimension.

In the sequel, Strange, following in the hypocritical footsteps of the Ancient One, taps into dark powers to win the battle. Later, he dismisses any notion his use of evil means to accomplish his ends brought any negative impact on himself. Meanwhile, Wanda is forced to confront her choices and attempt to make amends. Outside of minor internal reflections, will Strange ever have the same confrontation?

In speaking with the arrogant religious leaders of his day, Jesus challenged the moral advancement they claimed for themselves. “Truly I tell you,” Jesus said in Matthew 21:31, “tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.”

Multiverse of Madness viewers are left wondering what’s next for Wanda and Strange, for that matter. It may be that she’s closer to the truth than he is. After all, “love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not arrogant.” And love is willing to pay the cost. It “endures all things,” but that rarely comes without a price.

Maybe, despite all her sins, Wanda Maximoff is closer to the kingdom of God than Stephen Strange.

A version of this article originally published at The Wardrobe Door.

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Aaron Earls

Aaron Earls is senior writer/editor of LifewayResearch.com and a freelance writer living outside Nashville, Tennessee with his wife and four kids. He earned his M.Div. in Apologetics from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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