Scott Derrickson’s new film, Doctor Strange, has received rave reviews for its special effects, its compelling storytelling and the quality of its actors, but I would like to focus on the spirituality implicit in it. Doctor Strange is far from a satisfying presentation of the spiritual order, but it represents a significant step in the right direction, which proves especially helpful for our time.

Played by the always splendid Benedict Cumberbatch, Doctor Strange is dashing, handsome, ultra-cool, a brilliant neurosurgeon, called upon to handle only the most delicate and complex surgeries. He is also unbearably arrogant, pathologically self-absorbed, utterly dismissive of his colleagues, something of a first-class jerk.

While racing in his Lamborghini to an evening soirée, he runs his car off the road and suffers grievous injuries to his hands. Despite the heroic efforts of the best surgeons, his fingers remain twisted, incapable of performing the operations which have made him rich and famous.

In his desperation, he travels to a mysterious treatment centre in Kathmandu, where people with horrific and irreversible physical damage have, he hears, been cured. There he confronts a bald-pated female figure, played by Tilda Swinton, who claims that she has healed severed spinal cords through the manipulation of spiritual forces.

When he hears this, the rationalist Doctor Strange explodes in anger and, poking her in the chest, he asserts his conviction that matter is all there is and that we human beings exist for a brief moment in the context of an indifferent universe. With that, she shoves him backwards and, to Doctor Strange’s infinite astonishment, his astral body suddenly leaves his ordinary body.

This is his introduction to a world that he never knew existed, and the beginning of his mystical apprenticeship. (By the way, if you want a compelling Christian take on this phenomenon, look at Fr Robert Spitzer’s musings on “transphysical consciousness”, or in more ordinary language, the “soul”.)

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