Doctor Strange: Imagery and Storytelling Through His Hands

While watching Doctor Strange I noticed a considerable focus on Doctor Strange’s hands. Because Doctor Strange’s journey begins when he damages his hands, they are a big part of the story’s purpose and the camera spends a lot of time on his hands as he progresses through the story.

Here is a quick breakdown of how images of Doctor Strange’s hands are used to describe his mindset and where he is in his journey.

Before the Accident

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At the start of the movie, the filmmakers want to make it clear that Doctor Strange’s hands are the tools he uses to practice medicine so there is a hefty montage of his hands prepping for surgery. It begins with an image of Doctor Strange delicately washing his hands. He gently glides his hands into the running water. There’s an elegance to the motion — it’s beautiful.

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Then we see a series of shots of his hands being further prepped for surgery: putting on gloves, grabbing tools. And finally, he raises his hands, ready for surgery. He stands like a man who is supremely confident.

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Even after surgery we see more shots of his hands to keep them in the forefront of our mind. Like when Doctor Strange goes home, we see him tying his bow tie and smoothly gliding over his collection of watches.

 

The Accident

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Likewise, leading up to the accident there are many shots to remind us to focus on Doctor Strange’s hands. When Doctor Strange takes the fateful call that causes him to drive off the road, we see his hands touching the phone to accept the call. The filmmakers could have used a medium shot of Doctor Strange’s upper body, but they deliberately keep the focus on his hands as much as possible to telegraph their importance.

Then when he crashes, we watch his hands go into the dashboard of the car in slow motion.

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We continue to Doctor Strange in the hospital and where see his hands are covered in a protective harness and embedded with multiple pins. When Strange wakes, he looks at the pins in horror. “What did they do?” he asks repeatedly. His immediate thought is to how he will recover (after all he is a doctor, healing the body is what he knows).

 

Recovery

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Throughout his recovery, there is a lot of focus on his hands. We see him struggle at physiotherapy, where his fingers are put in an elastic device designed to force him to make a fist repeated against the tension of taut strings. We also see a mirror shot of when Doctor Strange originally washes his hands. Only this time there is no elegance, no beauty; his hands tremble violently while he washes them. We also see his hands tremble as he practices writing his name.

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Most importantly, we get to to see an image that contrasts the previous shot where Doctor Strange was prepped for surgery and he stood with his gloved hands raised, confident and ready. In this shot, he is talking to a patient who recovered from a spinal injury. Doctor Strange holds the same stance, his hands raised before him; only this time we see him now without confidence, without money, without options, and a pitiful look on his face as he begs for help. At this point, Doctor Strange is out of ideas and seeks to improve himself any way he can.

 

Training

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As he trains, Doctor Strange uses his hands to practice various forms of magic. We see him struggle to open his first portal and he blames his nerve damage. “Tell me how this is NOT about my hands!” he screams at The Ancient One.

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Then later, when he progresses in his magical prowess (and gains some of his confidence back) he complains about his hands less, he simply uses them to do spells, like when he learns how to control time. The more Doctor Strange learns about magic and himself, the more he progresses as an individual.

 

Final Images

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Near the end of the film, Doctor Strange and The Ancient One share a conversation in their astral forms. Strange has just learned more about The Ancient One and for the first time they have a honest conversation. As they learn about (and finally understand) each other, they treat each other as human beings. Their relationship momentarily changes from the impersonal student and teacher and they hold each other’s hands in mutual understanding and comfort. They could hug, but their relationship is too formal; their hands are the only way they can connect. It is a turning point for Doctor Strange as he must decide how he will proceed given the danger the world faces.


Once the climax has ended, one of the final images of the film is Doctor Strange looking down at his trembling hands that are still riddled with nerve damage. Though his journey began as a quest to heal his hands and get back to who he was, he can now accept who he has become.

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