The film Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is a 1964 satire on the horrors of nuclear war. It was written and directed by Stanley Kubrick, and stars some famous actors including Peter Sellers in the title role. The backdrop of nuclear war was salient to this era as the U.S. was at the height of the Cold War panic and had just been scared stiff by the Bay of Pigs. Dr. Strangelove pokes fun at the rampant fear held by U.S. citizens and draws out how prejudices and fears drive actions that could affect the entire world in a dramatically catastrophic way.
The principal actor is Peter Sellers–of Pink Panther fame–who plays Captain Mandrake, the President and the villain, Dr. Strangelove, an ex-Nazi scientist. Here lies a good tidbit of historical fact, because the United States extended amnesty and safe harbor to many gifted Nazi scientists after World War II. Kubrick uses this information to create a supervillian based upon fact. Other stars include George C. Scott who plays General Turgidson, and James Earl Jones, who plays Lieutenant Zogg. Sterling Hayden plays General Ripper who is a imbalanced but powerful masculine type–he fills an archetype–the testosterone-affected male who is ready for warfare. General Ripper is the delusional air force officer who breaks the chain of command.
Kubrick decided to shoot the film in black and white which gives the film a more historical and realistic tone. The tone draws upon the propaganda and hygiene films of the 1940s and 1950s, driving fear into the audience. The major themes of the movie are these recurring motifs: the dehumanizing effect of technology, sexism and canned gender roles, incompetency of political leaders and the futility of war and mutual destruction nuclear warfare. The gender roles and sexual themes in Dr. Strangelove are frighteningly stark. The leading men are portrayed as largely unstable (i.e. Ripper, Strangelove, involved in power struggles, and homicidal. General Ripper is obsessed with preserving his “precious bodily fluids”, and General Turgidson is propelled into idiocy by testosterone and fear. Various extreme attitudes to war are presented in the film. For instance, delusional General Ripper believes that “war is too important to be left to politicians” and breaks chain of command to engage the missile. While President Merkin is weak and unable to make a decision.
The art of satire is present in using overly honest and somewhat crude terms such as: “War Room” and “Doomsday Machine” in the film. Using terms such as these forces the audience to confront the catastrophic consequences of nuclear war. The editing and cinematography also contribute to the gross exaggerations employed in the satire. For instance, conversations are one-sided, cut-off, or viewpoint changed abruptly. Kubrick jumps between the main settings in the movie, Burpelson Air Force Base, the Pentagon, and Ripper’s office, lending a real time feel to the hours leading up to the detonation of the bomb. The end is both dark and whimsical as Dr. Strangelove suddenly stands and walks, and declares “Mein Fuhrer” before the explosions. Since the film ends in nuclear catastrophe, the audience is left to assume that this is Kubrick’s prediction for humanity’s future.
In addition to solidifying its status as a cult film, Dr. Strangelove won critical acclaim and continues to be referenced as a great American film from a legendary director. Iconic scenes such as Major Kong riding the bomb are part of film history. Iconic sets such as the War Room, have influenced other movies and won the film critical praise.
In conclusion, by using satire and black comedy Kubrick succeeds in demonstrating the absurdity of widespread, mass warfare. The primary points are that nobody could be rightfully declared the winner, and that small-minded men in very distant clandestine rooms hold the fate of nations and the survival of the species in their hands. While the film seems absurd, it speaks volumes of truth regarding the reality of warfare and politicking.