Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

Title: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Writer/s: Stanley Kubrick, Peter George and Terry George

Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (1987) is one of my favourite films of all time, and I will probably write a piece for it at some point. I wanted to write about Dr Strangelove (1964) because I recently watched it for the first time and was completely blown away (see what I did there?) by the absolute brilliance of it. Kubrick, in my opinion has always been brilliant at revealing the dark side of the human psyche. He created films that dealt with three major wars, and each one was unique in its portrayal of human tragedy. In Paths of Glory (1957) he dealt with WW1, Full Metal Jacket was all about the war in Vietnam, and in Dr Strangelove he showcases the horrors of the Hydrogen bomb in the Cold War. The screenplay itself was adapted into a satire by Kubrick, but was originally based on Peter George’s novel Red Alert (1958).

However, this film is a comedy, and is also classified in my reference books under the science fiction genre. The entire film revolves around the constant threat that people felt with regard to a nuclear holocaust. Air Force Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) is the cause of all the commotion as he begins by ordering that Plan R be implemented. Plan R is the US’s command to drop bombs on Russia, and this is all done without the President’s consent. This bizarre decision is brought on by his belief that the Communists plan to attack by putting fluoride in the water. The conspiracies become more and more bizarre and eventually General Ripper commits suicide before British Group Captain Mandrake can extract the recall code for Plan R. The President of the United States of America is played by Peter Sellers, who also plays three of the five major roles in the film. Aside from being the president he is also Mandrake, and the oddball scientist, weapons researcher and former Nazi, Dr Strangelove. Sellers’ performances are nothing short of brilliant.

The film also follows the process of one of the B-52 Bombers and the young and courageous men inside it that have been sent on this mission. They are all young, patriotic and willing to die for their country. This seems to be a common theme in Kubrick’s depictions of war. The two nuclear bombs that this particular plane carries have HI THERE! and Dear John painted on the sides – another fabulous ode to the futility and overall ‘joke’ of war.

There are also some spectacular scenes that take place in the [in] famous War Room. President Muffley calls the Russian premier whilst he is attending a party to give him the bad news. The hilarious conversation that takes place between the two of them is made even more hilarious by the fact that neither one can hear each other properly. In another scene several members of the US and Soviet governments start arguing with one another which almost results in a physical fight, and at this juncture President Muffley yells at them: “You can’t fight in here! This is the war room”.

Plan R is eventually diffused but not before the last B-52 ends up dropping its bombs whilst being ridden (yes ridden) by Major T.J Kong, the bomber’s commander and pilot.  The plane’s radio equipment had been previously damaged and therefore did not receive the recall notification.

There is a laughable futility to the entire situation and Kubrick wants us to know this. The situation was serious and yet the idea of someone doing something so potentially catastrophic without receiving any official orders is insane. Jack D. Ripper is insane and it seems that Dr. Strangelove, President Muffley and quite a lot of the members of the military and U.S government are all equally insane. Not a particularly safe notion to put out there when the general populace is already terrified out of their minds. Mushroom clouds were an image straight out of people’s nightmares and it was this constant threat that has continued into present day paranoia with the threat of nuclear attack.

In the end President Muffley is informed of The Doomsday Machine which will be detonated. This would render the Earth uninhabitable for approximately 93 years, according to Strangelove. Odd discussions involving repopulating the planet ensue, and finally as the bombs fall aided by Major Kong, the Doomsday Machine is activated and a cloud of nuclear explosions fill the screen.

The END.

The Shining (1980)

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