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

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

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Directed By Stanley Kubrick
Starring Peter Sellers and George C. Scott

If you have not seen a Stanley Kubrick film this is a great one to start with, it is definitely one of the more accessible films.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is based on Peter George’s novel: Two Hours to Doom (or Red Alert in the United States). It is about a unsanctioned nuclear attack by the United States on the Soviet Union and is a political satire on the Cold War.

General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) is commander on an Air base which is in charge of 34 B52 bombers holding 14 megatons of nuclear weapons. These planes are always in flight and are always no further than 2 hours from their Russian targets. Ripper orders ‘Wing Attack Plan R’, which initiates the planes to attack their targets and to go into radio silence unless they receive intel which is preceded with a specific 3 letter code Ripper alone knows.

It becomes known that Ripper has initiated this attack without the knowledge of his superiors and the President of the United States (Peter Sellers) has to figure out how to get the planes back before it not only starts nuclear war with Russia but sets off their Doomsday device which will end humankind.

Ripper has started this war because he has lost faith in politicians to do the right thing:

But today war is too important to be left to the politicians. They have neither the time, the training, not the inclination for strategic thought.

Depending on your political inclination you might agree. However, Ripper goes on to explain that actually it because the United States of America has fluorinated the water:

Do you realise that fluoridation is the most monstrously conceived and dangerous communist plot that we have ever had to face?

Ripper determined this when he could not perform during sex. Obviously, it was the fluorinated water and therefore the Russians who were to blame!

This reasoning will definitely take you by surprise. You are starting nuclear war over the fluorination of water!

This ridiculous statement is juxtaposed by the bullets that fly through the room as Ripper finishes his sentence, and the doomsday device introduced in the next scene. This is Kubrick’s statement – wars are often started over ridiculous notions and opinions are result in the death of millions of innocent people.

Kubrick does go on to prove Ripper’s point however, neither the President of the United States or the Premier of Russia is fit to be handling this situation. When the President tries to contact the Russian Premier – he is unable to be contacted because he is at a party and is drunk.

Our premier is the man of the people, but he is also a man if you follow my lead.

The President of the United States is not without fault, he seems to be good friends with the Russia Premier:

Of course I like to speak to you!

He also fails to notice that the Russian ambassador is obviously taking photos in the war room at the Pentagon.

I think it is also important to note that even though the President and the General Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott) have been arguing for the entire film, they agree that the best way to handle the Doomsday device is to live at the bottom of a mineshaft for a 100 years with 10 good looking women each. They are being obviously manipulated by the Russian ambassador and Dr. Strangelove (Peter Sellers) but are too excited by the prospect they choose to ignore the many obvious signs that Dr. Strangelove loyalties do not lie with the United States.

Capitalism is also targeted. Captain Mandrake (Peter Sellers) cannot call the President to stop nuclear war because the President will not accept collect calls and the Captain does not have enough change to pay for the call. The colonel who is holding him captive, also does not want to damage the vending machine to pay for the call.

Colonel, that Coca-cola machine, I want you to shoot the lock off of it, there may be some change in there.

That’s private property.

Even though I think George C. Scott, who did not like how his character was portrayed in the final cut of the film, steals the show, I think it is important to notice just how many characters Peter Sellers plays in this film. They are all distinctly different and I’ll be impressed if anyone even notices on their first viewing. It is masterful acting.

Kubrick is able to manipulate the audience’s emotion by making them feel attached to characters even though they are ending the world. This is most obvious when the B52 bomber is heading towards its target and is losing fuel. The audience wants the bomber to get there, to blow up its target and get home safely, even if that means the end of the world. We have grown attached to the men in the plane as we have watched them unpack their survival kits and see Major T.J “King” Kong (Slim Pickens) in his cowboy hat, personalising him above his crew – still in their helmets. We know that they are just following orders, and do not understand the true consequences of their actions and therefore, against our better judgement, we want them to succeed. It is a powerful and confusing emotion for the audience, and it reminds of the individuals in war – they aren’t just lights on the big board – they are human beings.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learnt to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is an entertaining political satire of the Cold War, with thought-provoking questions hidden behind ridiculous scenarios. I highly recommend it for your Friday Night viewing!

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