The Harsh, Real-Life Theme Hidden In 'Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness'
This article contains spoilers for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
The new Doctor Strange movie made me feel a lot of things. Surprised? For sure, what with a studio actually allowing director Sam Raimi to do what he wants with a superhero movie. Giddy? You bet — there aren’t many superhero horror movies, and this Marvel entry was clearly a shoutout to an audience often neglected. Old? Holy hexing Hellverse, did this movie make me feel old. You see, underneath the obvious story plots and events that have everyone with way too much energy scrambling to figure out what’s canon and how it all fits with the TV shows and whatnot, there's a simmering metaphor about getting older, and having to deal with what that entails.
Our heroes aren’t 20-somethings anymore, and it shows. God, we have a version of Strange in this movie that looks like he’s an old dude going through a midlife crisis by pretending to be a member of a thrash metal band:
That right there is Defender Strange, a version of Strange in the multiverse who figures that taking a young girl’s powers (that young girl being America Chavez, who can traverse the multiverse) is the solution to the problems he himself created. Very mature, guy whose best friend is a sentient cape.
Fast forward to the end where the Strange from Earth-616 (our main universe) realizes that the answer isn’t taking Chavez’ power but encouraging and guiding her into using it best herself, and a theme around letting the younger generation have their time starts to emerge because it’s also pretty obvious that this movie's all about the kids.
When we first see Wanda Maximoff here, she goes from pretending to be fine to revealing her reality as a literal barren wasteland and telling Strange that no, she’s actually not fine and she wants to go to a place where her kids exist. Wanda has one of the saddest stories in the Marvel universe, and her constant loss and unchecked grief have finally come to roost, so to speak. She’s over it — as is her right at this point — but this version of Wanda has gone over the edge because she cannot come to terms with the fact that, in this life, she won’t have a family. A fact that has driven her a teensy bit mad because she keeps on obsessing over it. She dreams about her twin boys every night, then wakes up every morning, alone and without them. The reality that she’ll never have two little superhero boys with Vision is so horrible for her that she simply rejects it and goes searching for that outcome in other realities.
It’s sad as heck, and also totally grounded in real life because it’s something a lot of women who can’t have or who don't want kids have to come to terms with eventually. I’ve never wanted kids for various and also personal reasons, but don’t think I've never dreamed of, thought about, or cried over the kids I don’t even have. It happens, even more so when you start getting older and see that window closing, and it makes what Wanda’s going through much more real than the idea of Strange in an actual '80s metal band.
The thematic, direct question posed to Strange in the movie is simple: “Are you happy?” You know who not only asks that question but also thinks about it with serious sincerity? That’s right! Older people. When you hit early middle age (which is anywhere from 35), the fact that you’re deteriorating physically day by day becomes way more real and pertinent. The trailer literally starts off with Strange dreaming about being a different version of himself before saying that waking up every morning to start the day is the real nightmare:
That is some depressing stuff right there, and a clear sign of a guy who’s about to get a radical new haircut and buy three motorbikes (or in Strange's case, go on a walkabout through spacetime). Doctor Strange 2 begins with Stephen Strange attending “the love of his life” Christine’s wedding — a bittersweet event for him because he didn’t end up with her. Again, they’re not youngins anymore, which means that ship has probably officially sailed. The rest of the movie sees him coming to terms with the reality of that (other universes show that it never really worked out), and instead of going off the rails like a certain sinister version of himself — that we’ll no doubt see more of in the future — Strange learns to care about and eventually care for a random kid who needs his help.
That’s probably better than wanting to smoosh the multiverse together because life didn’t give him the woman he wanted.
Top Image: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures