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After participating in the Guardians of the Galaxy quarantine watch party, I published a post referencing the show business adage that there are no small parts. In doing so, I used Bereet as evidence supporting that adage. Today, I’m going to use the sympathetic physical therapist, played well by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith.
Like Tony Stark, Stephen Strange (slowly) grew from a self-absorbed jackhole to someone serving others, but unlike most others in the MCU did so by changing his methods. When the arms-dealing Tony Stark’s focus shifted from himself to others, his methods didn’t change. He still accomplished his tasks through weaponry. Thor still ran into battle headfirst relying on brawn more than strategy. Nebula’s plan for saving half the universe still involved murder, and her target was a family member. The Guardians in general were still scavengers looking for a payday to finance their universe-saving efforts. They worked with what they knew.
Strange was different. Off the top of my head, he was unique among the major MCU characters in that it wasn’t just his attitude that changed, but also his methods. Strange had to open his mind to other means to accomplish his goals. Strange’s circumstances largely removed his medical skills from his playbook, but he wasn’t being told to abandon them; in fact, he used them to help Dr. Palmer operate on him. The Ancient One’s point was that he had to add new skills. Experts “can often see in part but not the whole.” While I don’t believe in magic, as a general principle, this is certainly true. The more complex our base of knowledge becomes, the harder it is to understand everything necessary to solve large problems. But this is a superhero movie, so let’s stick with the magic. Strange needed to add magic to his repertoire, and while he could have used that magic to return to his old life, his new-founded altruism forced him to focus on a new skill set in favor of the old.
In the prior post, I asked, “[H]ow can you appreciate that growth if you don’t experience its full progression?” That is, to appreciate the growth, you must first clearly establish the character’s starting point, which leads us to Holdbrook-Smith’s part.
Jump to 3:13 for an excerpt of the scene in question.
The physical therapist represents an important part of Strange’s own field, yet Strange responds to him with condescension (“Bachelor’s Degree”). Granted, Strange is emotionally compromised by his injuries, but Strange exhibited this same behavior earlier when discussing being a part of the emergency room team, and when criticizing the other surgeon, Dr. Nicodemus West (who could easily have been the subject of this post). The physical therapist was there to remind us of this specific character flaw at a time when we may have forgotten it. He also helped make it clear that even someone doing his job competently and exhibiting remarkable patience in the face of Strange’s insults, isn’t protected from them.
No doubt, this is a subtle point, but as I said before, actors with quick appearances, even if they have no lines and are relegated to the background, provide necessary color to scenes. Holdbrook-Smith did that for us, whether we were paying attention or not.
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