We tend to think of heroes as people who begin their journey as heroes with certain values already in place, set goals and belief systems which guide them on a journey towards a noble outcome. However, in the origin story of "Doctor Strange", we experience a hero whose moral character is mostly eroded before he gains supernatural abilities. Characters like Captain America were shining examples of society before they got that one 'secret ingredient' that made them, well, super. In Cap's case, it was the Super Soldier Serum, but in the case of the famously gifted and super arrogant Doctor Stephen Strange...it's unclear. On the surface level, you might watch the movie and say "well, before he learned magic, Strange wasn’t the type of guy I’d want with any kind of special abilities...after all, look at how he acted with his natural talents! That magic must have changed him.”
To a certain point, you’re correct. The magic did change him; it granted him the knowledge and expertise he needed to be a hero at the end of the day. But realistically, the thing that started his metamorphosis from being exceptional to becoming unlimited was the trauma, disappointment, and pain of his car crash. Think about it: he never would’ve been in those mountains in Tibet if he wouldn’t have lost his ability to perform surgery in the crash. And more importantly, he never would’ve been open to receiving more than the status of his happy, selfish equilibrium if he hadn’t lost it all. Losing it all gave him the opportunity to rebuild, reframe, and exceed his former life, even if that former life was that of a world-renowned neurosurgeon.
This is where I find the deepest and most impactful message in the film. Many times in life, we view setbacks, disappointments, and quite frankly huge losses as death sentences, but we often ignore the fact that the only death sentence comes when you take your final breath. Until we die, there is still so much more we can do. Take the case of another extremely intelligent and successful Stephen, the impressive Mr. Hawking: diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease at a time in his life when he was just beginning to make breakthroughs in his field, he refused to let his circumstances define him. In fact, he kept a positive attitude when those around him, his own loved ones, struggled to do the same. He defined his future by changing the way he looked at his past and more importantly his present. We have to start thinking like these Stephens! Wake up everyday and take hold of the fact that you can change your life starting right now. No matter what has happened to you, if you devote yourself and promote positivity and faith, you can push past that and have great things happen through you. And the best part about it: there’s no magic required!