It turns out Benedict Cumberbatch has been ready to play Doctor Strange for his entire life — but he didn’t want to admit it at first.
When the lead actor in Marvel’s latest expansion to its sprawling cinematic universe first read the script for Doctor Strange, he wasn’t impressed. He told Vanity Fair that the script smacked of dated Cold War-era mumbo jumbo and cliche occultism. But then he thought back to his teenage years. It turns out, Cumberbatch spent some of his formative adolescent years reading Fritjof Capra’s 1975 book The Tao of Physics and searching for “the godhead within,” which all sounds like very apt activities for Marvel’s Sorcerer Supreme. It’s certainly a solid approach to figuring out how to become Strange, a character who embodies the never-ending conflict between science and far-out magic. Reading Capra’s book just may not be a great way to understand…well…science.
During a period of intense fascination with eastern cultures throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, Austrian-American physicist Fritjof Capra published The Tao of Physics, a text that draws parallels between eastern religions like Buddhism with quantum mechanics. Capra sums up the book in its epilogue: “Science does not need mysticism and mysticism does not need science, but man needs both.”
Capra’s book was a hit, and wound up at the center of a movement that saw science and religion mingle, which, in hindsight, wasn’t the most scientifically healthy time. New York magazine gave the book a glowing review while it was blasted by experts like Noble Prize-winner Leon M. Lederman. Currently at Fermilab, a laboratory specializing in high-energy physics, Lederman took The Tao of Physics to task in his own book The God Particle:
“[H]e constructs elaborate extensions, totally bereft of the understanding of how carefully experiment and theory are woven together and how much blood, sweat, and tears go into each painful advance,” wrote Lederman.
In 2014, physicist Victor J. Stenger also challenged Capra, writing in the Huffington Post: “Where they see similarities between the new and the old mysticisms, I see only contrasts. Where they promote the new mythology as an antidote for self-absorption, I assert that they are manufacturing a drug that induces it.”
Still, it is fitting that Cumberbatch thought of his quirky The Tao of Physics days to become Doctor Strange. Like Capra’s book, Marvel writer Steve Ditko created Doctor Strange in 1963 as a response to western culture’s fascination with the “exotic” east, and even now, the character is followed through comic book culture by pulpy, hokey science with a tinge of orientalism. It remains to be seen whether the film will capitalize on the same iffy pseudo science and mysticism that rocketed The Tao of Physics into international infamy.
Marvel’s Doctor Strange hits theaters November 4.