Director Stanley Kubrick is known for his unique directorial style, and for tackling controversial issues. Exhibit A: “Dr. Strangelove, or: How I learned to stop worrying and Love the Bomb.” Afterall, you need to have a unique (and twisted) sense of humor to find nuclear holocaust entertaining, but Kubrick does a marvelous job of balancing his truely bizzare humor with the gut-wrenching terror felt in the Cold War era.
The political satire stars Peter Sellers portraying three roles, including the title role of Dr. Strangelove, as well as the U.S. President and Group Captain Mandrake, a british soldier under the command of the insane General Ripper (Sterling Hayden). Believing politicians to be unable, and untrained to deal with the growing Russian threat during the Cold War, Ripper breaks protocol and attempts to initiate nuclear war with Russia by initiating “Plan R”. He misleads Captain Mandrake and others at his Army base that the Russians have actually already attacked targets in the U.S. and orders the base into lockdown mode and for the launch codes to be sent to a squadron of B-52 bombers patrolling outside Russia.
Soon the U.S. President calls a meeting at the Pentagon, and seeks the expertice of paranoid General “Buck” Turgidson (George C. Scott). After explaining that all contact with either the bombers or the base and General Ripper has been cut off, the President seeks options. Turgidson believes they should launch all of there nuclear weapons before the Russians realize what is happening, and accept the potential civilian casualties. “You’re talking about Mass Murder, General, not war!” screams the President. Turgidson’s absurd response is a clear example of the movie’s charm and humor; “Mr. President, I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh, depending on the breaks.” Rejecting this entirely, The President then requests the Russian ambassador (Peter Bull) be brought into the situation room and be consulted on the matter. Turgidson comically flips out and tries to convince the President not to allow him in, yelling “Sir, you can’t let him in here. He’ll see everything. He’ll see the big board! “
It is this delightful spin on things, and almost accidental honesty that makes this film entertaining and extremley funny. To take such a serious situation, A U.S. General launching an unauthorized attack on Russia, and make it so filled with cynical humor is priceless. The movie never for an instant takes itself serious and thats why we’re allowed to sit back and enjoy it. It’s almost more of something you’d expect from Mel Brooks or Woody Allen, not Stanley Kubrick, but his touch to the film is great. The film builds from the situation room and somewhat tensely to the U.S. Army base as soldiers attempt to reach General Ripper, and also cutting to the B-52 crew, including Slim Pickens (who has the now iconic moment in the film’s finale) and James Earl Jones.
As someone born in the 1980’s, the whole Cold War scare seems too long ago to take that serious, and the film lends itself to that line of thinking quite well. It’s almost like the film realizes its deadly serious subject matter and is just asking people to take a breath, and realize how silly everyone was acting. Great examples of this include when Dr. Strangelove and the Russian Ambassador are explaining the Russian counter-measure, being a “doomsday machine,” and General Turgidson expressing how much he wished the U.S. had one. Another example of satiring the time is when the U.S. President and Russian President are on the phone, and have an arguement about who is more sorry about the situation, and with the U.S. President assuring the Russian President that there’s no need to shout at him, even though it is his country about to be nuked, accidental or not. The absurdity of everything is made quite clear, and there is definetly a fair share of “What the hell?” comedic moments that make you laugh just as much as they confuse you as to why your laughing. Kubrick was a film genius and this is one of his absolute masterpieces. A real classic comedy.