Dr. Strangelove: How Kubrick Made Us Love The Bomb

Rating: 8 out of 10.

The world can end in many ways: a super-volcanic eruption, an asteroid impact, a gamma ray burst, a devastating pandemic (that one’s still on the table), even a rogue black hole. But while those are all a vengeful mother nature’s doing, nuclear warfare could only be placed on humanities’ shoulders.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is a 1964 dark satire based on the fears surrounding the Cold War between the Russians and Americans at the time. When insane General Jack Ripper (Sterling Hayden) orders his B-52s to attack Russia, the fate of the world rests upon President Muffley (Peter Sellers), General Turgidson (George C. Scott), former Nazi Dr. Strangelove (Peter Sellers), Group Captain Mandrake (Peter Sellers) and Major ‘King’ Kong (Slim Pickens) to try and stop a nuclear holocaust.

Now, while this is a Kubrick, it’s pretty much unlike any Kubrick after. In 1964, he was not yet an egocentric, obsessive, crazed perfectionist. Of course, while some of those qualities were simply just part of his nature, Dr. Strangelove almost has a… playfulness to it. Which is surprising if you’ve ever visited The Shining or 2001.

Peter Sellers’ love for improvisation clashed directly with Kubrick precision, but he embraced that maverick feel, and helped produced some of his most free wheeling work. While there are similarities to the computer dependency in 2001: A Space Odyssey and savage warfare in Full Metal Jacket, this a completely unique Kubrick because, shockingly, he makes us laugh. Unlike all the rest of his films, it wasn’t about him.

Of course, you couldn’t talk about Dr. Strangelove without mentioning Sellers. His performance is already legend for the multiple-character tour de force, and doesn’t only show what a brilliant comedian he is, but also how incredibly versatile an actor he is.

The neurotic and gloomy President, the absent minded, perfectly accented Mandrake and the twisted Nazi nuclear expert Strangelove are all so different because they’re not spoofs, but true performances. All his dialogue is supremely delivered (“Hello? Uh, hello Di- Hello Dimitri?”), and all his visually astounding moments are unforgettable.

Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!

President Muffley

But, of course, it’s not just Sellers – the whole ensemble gives masterful and detailed caricatures. George C. Scott is perfect as a Commie hating, rampant general, gurning and stretching in a way unmatched until Jim Carrey did The Mask; Pickens gives a dogged, relentless show of Southern charm, perfectly contrasting the futile advisors in the Pentagon, and will forever be remembered for the moment of King yee-hawing his way down into nuclear oblivion; and Sterling Hayden provides genius in a patriotic, serious but ultimately maniacal role. Not quite as good as a corrupt police officer in one the greatest scenes of all time, though.

And this brilliant comic acting is needed, because Dr. Strangelove relies upon it: it’s basically only filmed in four locations (an office, the perimeter of an Air Force base, the War Room, and the interior of a B-52 bomber), with the viewer just seeing faces, words, and a lot of complicated airflow. There’s also some incredible sets by Ken Adam which compliment the black and white cinematography of the film perfectly.

The colourless cinematography is great for many reasons as we slowly near the end of the world, but the way the earliest scenes are narrated, the subject matter at hand, and the way it’s shown in an achromatic gloom brings to mind a traditional newsreel. Kubrick’s whole career was built on the art of visuals, and that’s no different here. Of course, he was a brilliant black and white photographer.

I always find the release to be one of the greatest things about this film. In 1964, the world is rife with paranoia and fear over the possibility of annihilation, and all by our own hands. The Cold War and nuclear threats are all the rage. Kubrick feared viewers would be apathetic to any sort of serious portrayal of global extermination. So what did he do?

He made it provocatively and outrageously funny. It’s a satirical take on the stupidity, irresponsibility, arrogance of the few crazy men who we handed the power to lead our world and hopefully not end it. Unfortunately, in a scarily realistic, uncomedic comedy, everything that could go wrong does.

The ending is domineering. It is cinema of the highest order, with Strangelove’s Nazi temptations finally shining through as he describes the incredible opportunity for a master race. In fact, it could be argued that Dr. Strangelove doesn’t have an ending at all, but just cuts to reality, showing all the nuclear explosions ever set off to Vera Lynn’s We’ll Meet Again. It’s the perfect definition of satire. If you can take such a serious and scary subject for so many people, and make them giggle, then it’s a job well done.

All I can really do is congratulate Kubrick. He made us laugh at the end of the world. And he sure as hell made us love the bomb too.

Dr. Strangelove – 8 out of 10

40 thoughts on “Dr. Strangelove: How Kubrick Made Us Love The Bomb

  1. I don’t believe this! One of the great master’s films that i can’t get into. I do appreciate ‘You can’t fight in here, this is the war room’, and it’s dark black satire. Not to mention the slick acting and direction. However, for what it’s worth, my husband worships this film and treasures it. Back to that screen for me!

    Liked by 1 person

        1. 1) Dude, Where’s my car (seen it once, loved it. not sure how I’ll feel upon a re-watch)

          2) Bringing up Baby

          3) Reign of Fire

          4) The Head Hunter

          5) DC Cab (Mr Tee, how can you go wrong?)

          6) Dune Drifter

          7) and now Dr Strangelove.

          Liked by 2 people

        2. You have a lot of trust for Dix, eh? He is a well respected critic, to be fair. And hasn’t got *too* bad taste in film either… 😉

          Well, I haven’t watched many of the films on that list, so I can’t give you any advice. I did watch Bringing up Baby a while back – I can’t say I remember an awful lot about it…

          Liked by 2 people

        3. More like I have watched enough movies that Dix has reviewed, and tried enough of ones to figure out where our tastes overlap and where they don’t 😀

          Liked by 2 people

  2. I stumbled across the movie in the olden days of channel flipping when I was 15 or so, I believe the thought running through my head the entire movie was “I have no idea what this is but it’s blowing my mind”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “I have no idea what this is but it’s blowing my mind.” I’m going to print that on a poster and frame it on my wall. Of course, the poster will be of a nuclear explosion.

      Like

    1. Oh, Alex! The ending is the best bit! The whole Strangelove monologue – it’s why the whole film is named after him (probably)! Didn’t know he was going to do a pie fight though. Lucky someone stopped that…

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Aye, it’s not a gut busting film – in fact, it’s not a very comedic film, but the whole ineptitude and incompetence of everyone is hilarious. It also says wonders that it’s still as prevalent and nerve wracking 57 years later, which is mind blowing.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve not see this film in decades so I’m going to skip your entire review because it is bound to have spoilers and with the reminder that this film is around and waiting for me to view then I’ll go back and have a look at it again. I’ve watched a few of the other Cold War pictures of the 60s so am already in the mood.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You made the right decision – there are many spoilers here. It’s a classic though, and I’m glad you’re getting yourself primed! I hope it’ll be getting reviewed on the blog? Love to hear your thoughts!

      Oh, and I saw on Eddie’s blog that you’ve begun watching Succession? Is that right? Enjoying it?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t know if it’s truth or legend but I heard about president Bush Jr arriving in the White House and demanding to see this famous War Room he’d seen in the Kubrick’s movie. He was answered that there was any. Then he made it build ! 🙂
    Another terrific review you made about this masterpiece of laughs !

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Such a masterpiece, and you highlighted well all its qualities, well done! Now I want to rewatch it, it’s been a while since the last time I did that!

    Peter Sellers was truly great, and his performances in this one are astonishing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Definitely give it a rewatch – it’s a classic certainly deserving of it. Peter Sellers is just simply amazing. He’ll always be a legend, and Dr Strangeglove shows exactly why.

      Liked by 1 person

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