A sorcerer, later revealed to be Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), tears some pages from a chained book in a library and escapes with the help of several followers. The owner of the book, whom we later meet as the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), goes after them.
Ancient One: Master Kaecilius. That ritual will only bring you sorrow.
As he flees, Kaecilius bends, folds, and reshapes the streets and buildings of the city.
Though she's a formidable magical fighter, the Ancient One is unable to pin down Kaecilius and he escapes.
Dr. Steven Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is cool and confident as he performs a delicate brain surgery.
Dr. Strange: Challenge round, Billy. . . Oh, come on, Billy. You've got to be messing with me.
Billy: No, doctor.
Dr. Strange: Feels So Good, Chuck Mangione, 1977. Seriously, Billy, you said this one would be hard.
Billy: Hah! It's 1978.
Dr. Strange: No, Billy, while Feels So Good may have charted in 1978, the album was released in December, 1977.
Billy: No, no. Wikipedia says the . . .
Dr. Strange: Check again. When did you...?
Doctor: Where do you store all this useless information?
Dr. Strange: Useless? The man charted a top ten hit with a Flugelhorn.
As he finishes, Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) rushes in to show him an x-ray of a patient
Doctor: Oh, I've got this, Stephen. You've done your bit. Go ahead, we'll close up.
Dr. Strange: What is that?
Dr. Strange: It's amazing you kept him alive. Apneic, further brain stem testing after reflex test. I think I found the problem, Dr. Palmer. You left a bullet in his head.
Christine: Thanks. It's impinging on the medulla. I needed a specialist to diagnose brain death. Something about that doesn't feel right to me. We have to run.
Dr. Nicodemus West enters and is about to cart off the patient.
Christine: Dr. West! What are you doing? Hey!
Dr. West: Organ harvesting. He's a donor.
Christine: Slow down. I did not agree to that.
Dr. West: I don't need you to. We've already called brain death. Too premature. We need to get him prepped for a suboccipital craniotomy.
Dr. West: I'm not going to let you operate on a dead man. - What do you see? A bullet? - A perfect bullet. It's been hardened. You harden a bullet by alloying lead with antimony. A toxic metal. And as it leaks directly into the cerebral spinal fluid... Rapid-onset central nervous system shutdown.
Christine: We need to go. The patient's not dead, but he's dying.
Dr. Strange: Do you still want to harvest his organs?
Dr. West: I'll assist you.
Dr. Strange: No! Dr. Palmer will assist me.
Strange and Christine begin the operation as Dr. West watches.
Christine: Thank you. Image status, STAT.
Dr. Strange: We do not have time for that.
Christine: You can't do it by hand.
Dr. Strange: I can and I will.
Dr. West: This isn't the time for showing off, Strange.
Dr. Strange: How about ten minutes ago, when you called the wrong time of death? Cranial nerves intact. Dr. West, cover your watch.
Strange quickly does a manual extraction with forceps, demonstrating his impressive hand control.
Christine: You know, you didn't have to humiliate him in front of everyone.
Dr. Strange: I didn't have to save his patient either. But, you know, sometimes I just can't help myself.
Christine: Nic is a great doctor.
Dr. Strange: You came to me.
Christine: Yeah, well, I needed a second opinion.
Dr. Strange: You had a second opinion. What you needed was a competent one.
Christine: Well, all the more reason why you should be my neurosurgeon on call. You could make such a difference.
Dr. Strange: I can't work in your butcher shop.
Christine: Hey! Look, he... Look, I'm using trans-sectioned spinal cords to stimulate neurogenesis in the central nervous system. My work is at least going to save thousands for years to come. In the ER, I get to save one drunk idiot with a gun.
Christine: Yeah, you're right. In the ER, you're only saving lives. There's no fame, there's no CNN interviews. Well, I guess I'll have to stick with Nic.
Dr. Strange: Oh, wait a minute. You're not . . . you guys aren't . . .
Dr. Strange: Sleeping together. Sorry, I thought that was implicit in my disgust.
Christine: Explicit, actually. And no, I have a very strict rule against dating colleagues.
Dr. Strange: Oh really?
Christine: I call it the Strange policy.
Dr. Strange: Oh, good! I'm glad something is named after me. You know, I invented a laminectomy procedure, and yet, somehow, no one seems to want to call it the Strange technique.
Christine: We invented that technique.
Dr. Strange: You know, I gotta say, I'm very flattered by your policy. Look, I'm talking tonight at a Neurological Society dinner. Come with me.
Christine: Another speaking engagement? So romantic.
Dr. Strange: You used to love going to those things with me. We had fun together.
Christine: No. You had fun. They weren't about us, they were about you.
Dr. Strange: Not only about me.
Christine: Stephen. Everything is about you.
Dr. Strange: Maybe we can hyphenate. Strange-Palmer technique.
Strange dresses for the evening in his expensive condo (modern decor, lots of windows, amazing views), pausing to choose from a drawer full of high-end watches. Speeding out of his condo in his Lamborghini Huracán, Strange heads north. He calls Billy to consider his next patients.
Dr. Strange: Billy! What have you got for me?
Billy: I've got a 35-year-old Air Force colonel. Crushed his lower spine in some kind of experimental armor. Mid-thoracic vertebral fracture.
Dr. Strange: Well, I could help, but so can 50 other people. Find me something worth my time.
Billy: I have a 68-year-old female with an advanced brain stem glioma.
Dr. Strange: Yeah, you want me to screw up my perfect record? Definitely not.
Billy: How about a 22-year-old female with an electronic implant in her brain to control schizophrenia struck by lightning?
Dr. Strange: That does sound interesting. Could you send me the . . . got it.
Distracted and driving recklessly, he crashes and the car plunges into the river. He is airlifted back to his hospital and Christine is there when he awakens, badly hurt.
Christine: Hey. It's okay. It's going to be okay.
Dr. Strange: [looking at his hands] What did they do?
His hands are immobilized in a framework of pins and wires.
Christine: They rushed you in a chopper. But it took a little while to find you. The golden hours for nerve damage went by while you were in the car.
Dr. Strange: What did they do?!?
Christine: Eleven stainless steel pins in the bones. Multiple torn ligaments. Severe nerve damage in both hands. You were on the table for eleven hours.
Dr. Strange: [sobs] Look at these fixators.
Christine: No one could have done better.
Dr. Strange: I could have done better.
Recovering slowly after further surgeries, his hands remain stiff and shaky -- he can no longer work as a neurosurgeon.
Dr. West: You need to give your body time to heal.
Dr. Strange: You've ruined me!
Strange is in a conference with other doctors.
Dr. Strange: How long until I'm . . .
Doctor 1: Dr. Strange, those tissues are still healing.
Dr. Strange: So speed it up. Pass the stent under the brachial artery under the radial artery.
Doctor 2: It's possible. Experimental and expensive, but possible.
Dr. Strange: All I need is possible.
Later, Strange is in a rehabilitation session with a physcial therapist.
Physical Therapist: Up. Up. Show me your strength.
Dr. Strange: Ah! It's useless.
Physical Therapist: It's not useless, man, you can do this.
Dr. Strange: Then answer me this, bachelor's degree. Have you ever known anyone with nerve damage this severe to do this, and actually recover?
Physical Therapist: One guy, yeah. Factory accident, broke his back. Paralyzed. His leg wasted away. He had pain in his shoulder from the wheelchair. He came in three times a week. But one day he stopped coming. I thought he was dead. A few years later, he walked past me on the street.
Dr. Strange: He walked? Bullshit. Show me his file.
Physical Therapist: It can take me a while to pull the files from the archive. But if it proves your arrogant ass wrong, it's worth it.
Strange video-phones a specialist by the name of Etienne, but like Dr. Strange, he too is more concerned with his own reputation.
Etienne: I looked at all your research. I read all the papers you've sent, but none will work. I don't think you realize how severe the damage is. Look, here's the thing, at best, I'd try and fail.
Dr. Strange: Look, I understand. Here's the thing. I...
Etienne: What you want from me is impossible, Stephen.
Dr. Strange: Come on.
Etienne: I've got my own reputation to consider.
Dr. Strange: Etienne, wait. I can't help you.
Dr. Strange: No. No, no, wait!
Etienne hangs up on him. Dr. Strange now feeling how so many of his patients felt whe he rejected them. Feeling sorry for himself, Strange vents his frustration on Christine, who has just arrived at his home.
Christine: Hi. He won't do it.
Dr. Strange: He's a hack. There's a new procedure in Tokyo. They culture donor stem cells and then harvest them and 3D-print a scaffold. If I could get a loan together, just...
Christine: Stephen . . .
Dr. Strange: A small loan, 200,000.
Christine: Stephen. You've always spent money as fast as you could make it, but now you're spending money you don't even have. Maybe it's time to consider stopping.
Dr. Strange: No. Now is exactly the time not to stop. Because, you see, I'm not getting any better!
Christine: But this isn't medicine anymore. This is mania. Some things just can't be fixed.
Dr. Strange: Life without my work . . .
Christine: Is still life. This isn't the end. There are other things that can give your life meaning.
Dr. Strange: Like what? Like you?
Christine: And this is the part where you apologize.
Dr. Strange: This is the part where you leave.
Christine: Fine. I can't watch you do this to yourself anymore.
Dr. Strange: Too difficult for you, is it?
Christine: Yes. It is. And it breaks my heart to see you this way.
Dr. Strange: No. Don't pity me.
Christine: I'm not pitying you.
Dr. Strange: Oh yeah? Then what are you doing here? Bringing cheese and wine as if we're old friends going for a picnic? We are not friends, Christine. We were barely lovers. You just love a sob story, don't you? Is that what I am to you now? Poor Stephen Strange, charity case. He finally needs me. Another dreg of humanity for you to work on. Fix him up and send him back into the world, heart is just humming... You care so much! Don't you?!?
Christine: Goodbye, Stephen.
The physical therapist makes good on delivering proof about the man who was miraculously healed.
Physical Therapist writes: Told you so! Pangborn, J. Metropolitan General Hospital Jonathan Pangborn, C7-C8 spinal cord injury, complete.
Strange searches for and finds Pangborn playing basketball.
Pangborn: Who are you?
Dr. Strange: Paralyzed from the mid-chest down. Partial paralysis of both hands.
Pangborn: I don't know you.
Dr. Strange: I'm Stephen Strange. I'm a neurosurgeon. Was a neurosurgeon.
Pangborn: Actually, you know what, man? I think I know you. I came to your office once. You refused to see me. I never got past your assistant.
Dr. Strange: You were untreatable.
Pangborn: No glory for you in that, right?
Dr. Strange: You came back from a place there is no way back from! I'm trying to find my own way back.
Pangborn: Alright. I'd given up on my body. I thought my mind was the only thing I had left. I should at least try to elevate that. So I sat with gurus, and sacred women. Strangers carried me to mountain tops to see holy men. And finally, I found my teacher. And my mind was elevated. And my spirit deepened. And somehow . . .
Dr. Strange: Your body healed.
Pangborn: Yes. And there were deeper secrets to learn then, but I did not have the strength to receive them. I chose to settle for my miracle, and I came back home. The place you're looking for is called Kamar-Taj. But the cost is high.
Dr. Strange: How much?
Pangborn: I'm not talking about money. Good luck.
Strange makes his way to Nepal and wanders the streets of Kathmandu.
Dr. Strange: Kathmandu, Nepal Excuse me. Kamar-Taj? Do you know where Kamar-Taj is?
Sign: "Himalayan Healing! Find Peace! Find Yourself!"
Strange is noticed and followed by muggers.
Dr. Strange: Kamar-Taj? Kamar-Taj. Okay. Guys, I don't have any money.
Mugger: Your watch.
Dr. Strange: No, please. It's all I have left.
Mugger: Your watch.
Dr. Strange: Alright.
After Strange takes a beating, Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) saves him from the muggers and collects his watch.
Mordo: You're looking for Kamar-Taj?
Mordo takes him to his temple.
Dr. Strange: Really? Are you sure you got the right place? That one looks a little more Kamar-y Taj-y.
Mordo: I once stood in your place. And I, too, was disrespectful. So might I offer you some advice? Forget everything you think you know.
Dr. Strange: Uh . . . alright.
There he meets the Ancient One, who knows all about Strange.
Mordo: The sanctuary of our teacher. The Ancient One.
Dr. Strange: The Ancient One? What's his real name? Right. Forget everything I think I know. I'm sorry. Thank you, Ancient One, for seeing me.
Strange is talking to an Asian in ceremonial garb, not realizing the Ancient One is a bald-head woman who approaches him.
Ancient One: You're very welcome.
Mordo: The Ancient One.
Ancient One: Thank you, Master Mordo. Thank you, Master Hamir. Mr. Strange.
Dr. Strange: Doctor, actually.
Ancient One: Not anymore, surely. Isn't that why you're here? You've undergone many procedures. Seven, right?
Dr. Strange: Yeah. Good tea. Did you heal a man named Pangborn? A paralyzed man.
Ancient One: In a way.
Dr. Strange: You helped him to walk again.
Ancient One: Yes.
Dr. Strange: How do you correct a complete C7-C8 spinal cord injury?
Ancient One: Oh, I didn't correct it. He couldn't walk; I convinced him that he could.
Dr. Strange: You're not suggesting it was psychosomatic?
Ancient One: When you reattach a severed nerve, is it you who heals it back together or the body?
Dr. Strange: It's the cells.
Ancient One: And the cells are only programmed to put themselves together in very specific ways.
Dr. Strange: That's right.
Ancient One: What if I told you that your own body could be convinced to put itself back together in all sorts of ways?
Dr. Strange: You're talking about cellular regeneration. That's bleeding-edge medical tech. Is that why you're working here, without a governing medical board? I mean just how experimental is your treatment?
Ancient One: Quite.
Dr. Strange: So, you figured out a way to reprogram nerve cells to self-heal?
Ancient One: No, Mr. Strange. I know how to reorient the spirit to better heal the body.
Dr. Strange: Spirit to heal the body. Huh. Alright. How do we do that? Where do we start?
The Ancient shows him pictures in a book.
Ancient One: Don't like that map?
Dr. Strange: Oh, no. It's very good. It's just, you know, I've seen it before. In gift shops.
Ancient One: And what about this one?
Dr. Strange: Acupuncture, great.
Ancient One: What about that one?
Dr. Strange: You're showing me an MRI scan? I cannot believe this.
Ancient One: Each of those maps was drawn up by someone who could see in part, but not the whole.
Dr. Strange: I spent my last dollar getting here on a one-way ticket, and you're talking to me about healing through belief?
Ancient One: You're a man who's looking at the world through a keyhole, and you spent your whole life trying to widen that keyhole. To see more, know more. And now, on hearing that it can be widened in ways you can't imagine, you reject the possibility?
Dr. Strange: No, I reject it because I do not believe in fairy tales about chakras, or energy, or the power of belief. There is no such thing as spirit! We are made of matter, and nothing more. We're just another tiny, momentary speck within an indifferent universe.
Ancient One: You think too little of yourself.
Dr. Strange: Oh, you think you see through me, do you? Well, you don't. But I see through you!
The Ancient One forces Strange to experience alternate dimensions.
Dr. Strange: What did you just do to me?
Ancient One: I pushed your astral form out of your physical form.
Dr. Strange: What's in that tea? Psilocybin? LSD?
Ancient One: Just tea. With a little honey.
Dr. Strange: What just happened?
Ancient One: For a moment, you entered the astral dimension. A place where the soul exists apart from the body.
Dr. Strange: Why are you doing this to me?
Ancient One: To show you just how much you don't know. Open your eye!
She touches Strange's forehead and blasts him into a odyssey across dimensions.
Dr. Strange: No! No! Shit! Oh god! Oh god! This isn't real, it isn't real it isn't . . .
Mordo: His heart rate is getting dangerously high.
Ancient One: He looks alright to me. [to Strange] You think you know how the world works? You think that this material universe is all there is? What is real? What mysteries lie beyond the reach of your senses? At the root of existence, mind and matter meet. Thoughts shape reality. This universe is only one of an infinite number. Worlds without end. Some benevolent and life-giving; Others filled with malice and hunger. Dark places, where powers older than time lie... ravenous... and waiting. Who are you in this vast multiverse, Mr. Strange? Have you seen that before in a gift shop?
Dr. Strange: Teach me!
Ancient One: No.
The Ancient One has him booted out. Strange sits on the doorstep of Kamar-Taj, on the verge of tears.
Dr. Strange: No! No, no, no! Open the door! Please!
Ancient One: You think I was wrong to cast him out?
Mordo: Five hours later, he's still at the doorstep. There's a strength to him.
Ancient One: Stubbornness, arrogance, ambition, I've seen it all before.
Mordo: He reminds you of Kaecilius.
Ancient One: I can not lead another gifted student to power, only to lose him to the darkness.
Mordo: You didn't lose me. I wanted the power to defeat my enemies. You gave me the power to defeat my demons. And to live within the natural law.
Ancient One: We never lose our demons, Mordo, we only learn to live above them.
Mordo: Kaecilius still has the stolen pages. If he deciphers them, he could bring ruin upon us all. There may be dark days ahead. Perhaps Kamar-Taj could use a man like Strange.
Dr. Strange: Don't shut me out,! I haven't got anywhere else to go.
After Strange persists for hours to let him in, the door suddenly opens, causing him to fall backwards into the building.
Dr. Strange: Thank you!
Strange is assigned living quarters, Mordo escorts him there.
Mordo: Bed. Rest. Meditate if you can. The Ancient One will send for you.
Dr. Strange: [after Mordo hands him a card] What's this? My mantra?
Mordo: It's the wi-fi password. We're not savages.
Strange begins training. He learns to open gates to jump across worlds.
Ancient One: The language of the mystic arts is as old as civilization. The sorcerers of antiquity called the use of this language "spells." But if that word offends your modern sensibilities, we can call it a "program." The source code that shapes reality. We harness energy drawn from other dimensions of the Multiverse, to cast spells, to conjure shields, and weapons, to make magic.
Dr. Strange: Even if my fingers can do that, my hands would be just waving in the air. How do I get from here to there?
Ancient One: How did you get to reattach severed nerves and put a human spine back together bone by bone?
Dr. Strange: Study and practice. Years of it.