Let’s Talk About…’Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb’ (1964)

Film #11 in FilmExodus’ AFI 100 Movies

Every Tuesday FilmExodus does a review/analysis of a different cinematic masterpiece from AFI’s 100 Movies 2007 updated list. For a complete overview and how you can participate, click here.

There are very few films that have had a profound impact on my life. ’Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb’ easily takes that top spot. It took 3 tries at vastly different moment in my life, to partially understand how great this film is. On my first watch, two friends and I attempted to watch this comedy, but didn’t make it 20 minutes in. The first part of this film is played pretty straight forward. A general issues a command that sends codes to B-52 bombers equipped with nuclear payloads. Their orders are to enter Russian airspace and drop the payload. At 17 years old, I just couldn’t handle all of that comedy…

Eventually in my early 20’s I watched the film in full. The subtle comedic elements revealed themselves to me, but it was still a wordy black and white film. It wasn’t until close to my mid 20’s when I chose to give it one more try. I knew there was something dormant in this film, that I just didn’t understand. I was going through some darkness in my life, and I needed a “pick me up”. I don’t know if it was a combination of the things in my personal life and this film, but something fell into place. The dark comedic elements and satire spoke to me. It destroyed my naive self, and built me into someone that saw humor in all aspects of life. The good, the bad, it’s all one big fucking joke.

Stanley Kubrick is able to tap into an underlying darkness in human nature, and expose it in a darkly comedic way. He employed Peter Sellers (Chief Inspector Clouseau from the Pink Panther films) who the studio insisted play three pivotal roles. George C. Scott (Patton) plays a General that is always one motion away from mugging the camera. And, Sterling Hayden plays the very serious General Ripper, who quickly is revealed to be hilariously insane. He also ends up being the catalyst for everything that takes place in the film.

I know that it is extremely cliché to say that this film is very relevant in our current political environment, so I wont saddle it to our current situation. I think this film will be relevant as long as there is any tension between countries. The film tackles the idea that if we create a contingency plan out of fear of another country, in order to bridge that gap, the other country will respond in kind. But of course, human error is never factored into the situation, and things do not end well… I take that back, actually they go pretty much exactly as planned, minus one small rogue General slip up.

This film is shot quite beautifully. You get some amazing closeups, and really nice views of the War Room.  For a black and white film from the 60’s it almost feels like some scenes are in color. Coupled with the amazing cinematography, I think the actors help breathe life into their their environment.

 

Obviously I am writing about this film, because it’s on the AFI 100 list, but I think it gets overlooked outside of critic viewings and possibly film classes. When Kubrick is discussed, this film is generally left out, but in my opinion it’s his best. It is so ingrained into our culture, that every generation since it’s release, has been introduced to the famous bomb riding scene in one form or another.

Apparently, Slim Pickens was hired to play Kong in a serious war drama based on the novel Red Alert. As Kubrick was working on the screenplay he found the material darkly funny, and eventually abandoned the dramatic story. They didn’t tell Pickens that he was now in a dark comedy, and it clearly shows in the first 20 minutes of the film. With that said, I eventually realized that I needed to learn to love the first 20 minutes of this film, because it makes the end that much more poignant. Outside of the overarching theme of human’s being the creators of their own demise, the film gives a decent look at men being great at their job. The men in the plane carrying the bomb, do their job well. They question the initial order because it seems out of place, they follow Plan R as if this is all they have been trained to do, and in the end Kong ends up sacrificing himself (arguably by accident) as he releases the bomb and rides it like a bull to his and everyone’s quick demise.

Therein lies my favorite takeaway from this film. No matter how good you are at your job or life, you are still fucked, and I find some humor in that.


I found this write-up quite interesting while researching. 15 Things You Might Not Know About Dr. Strangelove

I think this is the original trailer. I love the use of typography and music. There is also a remastered version, but it’s too clean for my tastes.

I leave you with one final gif. This is my favorite quote from any movie. It’s delivered dry and direct. In the context of the film I chuckle every time I see it