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Lions Roar : May 2016
The Strange Case of Doctor Strange’s “Tibet” SPLITTING HIS TIME between Greenwich Village and a highly mythical version of Tibet, Doctor Strange was an unlikely comic-book hero when he debuted in 1963. Now he has his own eponymous Marvel Studios film coming out this November, starring Benedict Cumber- batch in the title role. As “Master of the Mystic Arts,” he quickly gained ap- peal as Sixties counterculture hit the mainstream. The world of Doctor Strange rang true with young people cu- rious about drugs, the occult, and Eastern religion. Beat writer Michael McClure even quoted the Doc at length in his 1965 play, The Beard. Part of the appeal was the setting. The pseudo-Tibet presented in Doctor Strange the comic book was a psy- chedelic wonderland mashed up with Asian cultures and influences—with little regard for accuracy of any kind. Noting that Strange’s mentor The Ancient One “was ba- sically just a racist caricature of a wise old Tibetan man,” the website Birth Movies Death last summer asked Mar- vel Studios President Kevin Feige how the film would or wouldn’t deal with all this. “The phony mysticism is part of what makes Doctor Strange interesting,” Feige responded, adding that Strange would “head east” in the film, but stay out of Tibet. Whether that’s the whole story remains to be seen. As culture site The Mary Sue posits, “This isn’t great news for those who had concerns about cultural erasure in general or the idea that Marvel was specifically avoiding Tibet in order to appease China, a huge film distribution market and a country which, to put it mildly, doesn’t like Tibet.” ♦ — ROD MEADE SPERRY his fellow man was made abundantly clear during his run in Hamlet. When Caitlin Moran, a journalist and author who had previously interviewed Cumberbatch, asked him to con- tribute to a charity single in aid of Syrian refugees, he readily agreed. From his dressing room, he recorded a video of him- self reading from the poem Home: “You have to understand that no one puts children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.” His involvement did not end there. Every night at the Bar- bican Theatre, after the curtain call, he broke with tradition by getting out a collection bucket and uttering a personal plea to theatergoers from the stage. Toward the end of the run, in late October, he made headlines around the world by uttering an impassioned “Fuck the politicians” during his speech. It was not the sort of language British theatre-goers are accustomed to when they sign up for a night of Shake- speare. The actress Samantha Morton, for one, supported his criticism of the response to the refugee crisis, saying she “cannot fathom how certain individuals within our govern- ment can sleep at night.” Cumberbatch raised more than a quarter of a million dol- lars in donations from audiences. Would he have acted in this way without his time spent with the Tibetan monks? Without having had his own brush with death? CUMBERBATCH IS RELUCTANT to talk in too great detail about his personal and spiritual beliefs, but he gladly describes himself as a Buddhist—“at least philosophically”— and says he is drawn to the “transcendent.” It’s easy to see why, once his fame in TV and film had earned him his pick of theater parts, he elected to play Ham- let. It’s not so much that it is the Everest that every actor simultaneously dreads and longs to climb. In fact, Cumber- batch is characteristically modest about that aspect, saying self-deprecatingly when he first announced the project, “I mean it’s a very vain project in a way, isn’t it, Hamlet, because every actor wants to have their go at it, but, um, I do want to have my go at it.” It’s more because Hamlet is such a spiritually questing play: from the appearance of the ghost of his father, to his agonizing over whether “to be or not to be,” and especially the key line, “And thus the native hue of resolution is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought.” Hamlet knows he should act to avenge his father; but in thinking overmuch on the rights and wrongs, and the when and how, he fails over and over to do it. That is the crux of and tension in the play. Cumberbatch played the part with an unusual amount of physical humor—acting like a toy soldier in the mad scenes—which made this a more action-oriented and less thought-crippled Hamlet than any of the dozen-odd productions I have previously seen. ➢ page 76 LION’S ROAR | MAY 2016 57